What it feels like to meet 100 women in STEM on the way to Antarctica

What it feels like to meet 100 women in STEM on the way to Antarctica

homeward bound
Fabian Dattner is the CEO of Homeward Bound and currently leading the largest all-female voyage to Antarctica in what she describes as the “defining dream of my life”. She’s been sharing updates from her trip, including how the 100 women in STEM first met a couple of weeks back. 

The madness of departure for Homeward Bound is a thing to behold. We try to say our goodbyes in private spaces. To friends, family, pets, gardens, work mates, home comforts and all that is familiar. Some of the faculty and participants are already en route to Buenos Aires or, indeed, Ushuaia. Three of us have wrangled (with the help of the HB home team), some 24 pieces of luggage, everything we will need to deliver a 21 day back to back leadership program on a ship in Antarctica.

That, for the record, is no mean feat of organisation, logistics, incredibly hard work and no small amount of collaboration and good will.

As we check in, some three participants make their way towards us. We recognise each other and there is enormous excitement in our meeting. For me, there is also a moment of thoughtful hesitation. I have learnt that my natural enthusiasm, my predisposition to hug people, is not always the right approach. I wait. They hug. I do too. The women talk at a million miles an hour. We are, after all, heading towards Antarctica. I mostly listen intently, seeking to understand rather than be understood.

We go through security, and, two more women meet us. I confess, meeting a 100 women is always a double bind for me. I care deeply for people, remember the most extraordinary things about them (their face cues what I know) from their background stories, to their reason for joining Homeward Bound, what they value and what they are hoping for in being part of this global collaboration.

I don’t, however, easily remember anyone’s name. I understand for some people this is hurtful. It can feel as if I don’t care, or I am not listening, despite the fact that I do and I am.

So now, when I meet people, I am consciously working to memorise their names. At best this is a shaky skill but it is intentional.

We take off from Melbourne and land in Santiago some 12 hours later.  Our small rivulets are becoming tributaries. We are starting to find Homeward Bounders in clusters 5 – 10 becomes 20 – 30. Some 4 hours later, we arrive in Buenos Aires, and our tributaries are becoming a river of excitement, hope, curiosity, conviction and kindness. I am carried along on this river.

We head to Ushuaia the next day, and this river becomes the mighty Amazon, but far more than 6400 kilometres in length. We span the world, some 40,000 kilometres, and our culture and languages are diverse though our ambition is shared.

Ushuaia is where the program starts. Our focus is on closing out on self awareness (or the process we create for people to deep dive on this) and to establish the ground rules that will ensure the women feel safe, included and heard. The time and collective skill to ensure we’ve landed this is immense, far more than I ever imagined (and learnt about in Homeward Bound One).

The hurt and vulnerability many (dare I say most) women carry requires skill and awareness to build, in order that we genuinely secure the capacity to collaborate without personal agendas intruding. What emerges, because we have learnt to do this better and better, is a global phenomenon of belonging and courage, accountability and shared resolve.

Tomorrow we get on our ship, 100 women plus an all female faculty. I will carry calmness, attention, mindfulness and kindness onto the ship with me. I recognise the power of our diverse leadership AND I give myself permission to be part of the learning we will all engage with to bring the best out of all of us.

homeward bound

Ultimately, I don’t believe we actually fully understand what women leading are capable of. How could any of us. If someone says they know, challenge them. One day, when we have led this world in equal measure, perhaps we will know. But right now, I listen, I learn, I change and I grow and in this way I serve these women as both a leader and a collaborator.

Lessons learned of value
  1. Leadership sits at the centre of a web of interactions; at the top you will see little
  2. Good leaders recognise over and over that feedback and disclosure matter
  3. Having got good feedback to something more, less, start or stop but what ever you do, not do nothing
  4. Give yourself to be a part of not apart from the people you lead
  5. At some point in time it is healthier to follow, even those you lead

Connect with Fabian on LinkedIn and check out more from the Dattner Group.

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