HOMEWARD BOUND: Women in Science Unite for Change

On 2 December this year, 76 female leaders in science from around the world set sail on an Antarctic expedition like no other. Homeward Bound is a ground-breaking 10 year initiative which aims to build a coalition of 1000 women in science. The collaboration seeks to both significantly elevate both the numbers and positions of women in scientific leadership roles throughout the world while focusing on building a sustainable future for the planet. This first voyage provides the kick-off point to the rest of the long-term project.

The brainchild of leadership expert Fabian Dattner and Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Antarctic Climate Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, the 19 day Antarctic voyage will see participants undergo significant strategic and leadership training as well as further education on global climate and earth systems.

Co-founder Fabian Dattner literally dreamed about the project one night, and quickly set about making it a reality.

“You know in Paris [UN Climate Change Conference 2015], of the 34 sub-committees only four were chaired by women. All the women are outside doing the work but where the politicians are meeting, 90 percent of them are men,” says Fabian.

“I have been working in the region for 30 years and I’m deeply worried about the very clear absence of female leadership.

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Fabian Dattner

“Women are the backbone of the not‐for‐profit, disability and education sectors, they are emerging in all universities as significant percentages of graduates, they take up significant percentages or our workforce and they provide the most unpaid community work.  They do most of the work in our homes, are more trustworthy with money and they excel at all but four of 16 well-researched leadership capabilities.  And they are in a profound minority in executive decision making roles which shape our future.”

The expedition is a cog in a much larger machine. Throughout 2016, the participants have been working on 12 separate projects designed to develop their leadership and strategic capabilities, using science to build conviction around the importance of their voices. The idea is that these projects will reach action levels during the expedition, ready for all of the participants to take back to their respective countries for implementation. The next group of women will then undergo the same state-of-the-art training, with the same cycle of education and implementation taking place over the next 10 years.  The program directors are aiming to work with 1000 women in science throughout that period.

Tina Schroeder (header image), Senior Research Officer at The University of QLD is one of the initial 76 participants.

“I was attracted to the trip as I believe that women are underrepresented in leadership and senior management positions in science, but also in the general workforce,” she explains.

“Having worked in science over the last 20 years and moving in to a more senior management role this is becoming more and more apparent to me. I see the trip as an opportunity highlight this issue as well as educating myself through the leadership and strategy program that will be presented on board and that we have partaken in over the year leading up to the trip.”

In her career, Tina has noticed some vast disparities when it comes to women in leadership positions in science.

“Personally, I would like to highlight the lack of women in senior positions in STEM (science, technology, maths and engineering) fields,” she says.

“Although about 50:50 men and women carry out undergraduate studies in the field of science, when they reach postgraduate studies only 30-40% are women and in senior positions within the university this figure drops to 10-20%. If this project can highlight these statistics and get us moving towards changing them, I would be happy.

“I am also really interested in all the leadership, strategy and management training we are going to receive during the trip as I believe this is something that is not focused on in academia. We have brilliant scientist finding themselves in leadership and management positions without any management training which can lead to interesting dynamics.”

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Tina at work

Tina is excited by the aims of Homeward Bound, and sees great potential for the participants.

“I think the group of women on board have a great opportunity to make an impact and raise awareness .”

“The 10-year initiative that Dattner-Grant are aiming for, educating and connecting 1000 women in science around the globe will send a powerful message that this is the time for change and women are ready to step up to the table and be heard,” she continues.

“I also want to be a role model for my two daughters and all young girls and women by sending them the message that you having a career in STEM as a women is ok and I want to make it easier for them to achieve this should this be their chosen career path. It is time for women to get a seat at the table and be heard.”

The Antarctic expedition runs from 2-21 December. Applications for the next program, departing in 2018, will open 17 January 2017. There are already hundreds of women wait-listed for the second program.

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