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By Amanda Kirk
Environmental Engineer, WSP Opus

 Earlier this year I spent three weeks exploring one of the world’s last true wildernesses as one of 78 women on the largest all-female expedition to Antarctica. The continent was the backdrop for Homeward Bound, a ground-breaking leadership programme for women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). The initiative comprises a 12-month leadership course delivered remotely online, followed by a 3-week expedition to Antarctica.

artarcticWe were welcomed to Antarctica by an unusually calm crossing of the notorious Drake Passage. Our excitement at the first sighting of small icebergs, known scientifically as “bergy bits”, was just the beginning. At the time, we couldn’t comprehend the immense scale of the icebergs we would see over the coming weeks, some of which were several kilometres long and hundreds of metres high, completely dwarfing our ship MV Ushuaia. The icy continent is known as a place of extremes, but it also serves as a stark reminder that climate change impacts all corners of our globe. The remote polar regions remain largely untouched by humans, but are still experiencing some of the most rapid responses to climate change seen anywhere on the planet. The beauty and fragility of Antarctica is surreal and near impossible to capture, despite the several thousand photos I returned with!

In Antarctica, we typically spent half of each day on board the ship engaged in lessons covering the four key components of the programme: leadership, science, strategy and visibility. Programme content was delivered by experts in their fields through lectures, workshops, collaborative projects and extensive open discussion. In the Southern Ocean, surrounded by icebergs, we learnt about developing and implementing organisational strategy, leadership diagnostics, science communication tools, and Antarctic science among other things.

The other half of the day was spent on land exploring Antarctica, visiting research stations and experiencing the wildlife. We visited six research stations along the Antarctic peninsula: Cámara and Carlini (Argentina), Great Wall (China), Palmer (US), and Port Lockroy and Rothera (UK). At each research station, we had the opportunity to mingle with staff and learn about the operational requirements of the base as well as the scientific research being undertaken there. At 67˚ south and the southernmost point of the journey, our visit to Rothera Station was particularly special as we were one of only two non-governmental ships permitted to visit each year.

penguin antarticThe impact of Homeward Bound extends far beyond the year-long course and Antarctic expedition. I continue to connect with other Homeward Bound participants around the globe and many collaborative, multi-disciplinary projects have been born. As the programme continues to grow, the opportunities for learning and networking will increase and become even more valuable. Visiting Antarctica instils a sense of ambassadorship and a responsibility to actively contribute to a more sustainable future. Homeward Bound takes that a step further, and recognises that elevating the individual and collective voices of women in STEMM will enable us to achieve this in a more effective and equitable way.

More about Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound aims to create a global network of 1,000 women over a period of 10 years, all equipped with the skills needed to influence policy and decision-making for a more sustainable future for our planet.

Women are underrepresented in STEMM careers around the world, and even more severely underrepresented in leadership positions. Homeward Bound aims to change this paradigm, by raising awareness of the inequity at the leadership table and developing the skill sets of women in STEMM to enable them to have a greater impact in their fields of work.

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