Homeward Bound CEO Pamela Sutton-Legaud on returning to Antarctica

This November 180 women who are leaders from 25 countries will voyage on two ships to Antarctica to ensure the sustainability of the planet. The women are part of the Homeward Bound global initiative, which was set up to elevate the visibility of women leading with a STEMM background (science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths). 

Homeward Bound was established by leadership expert Fabian Dattner in 2015 in collaboration with Australian co-founders, conservation ecologist Dr Justine Shaw and polar marine ecologist Professor Mary-Anne Lea. The global program takes women with a background in STEMM through a leadership journey called the Leadership Initiative - an online program - that culminates in a voyage to Antarctica, the first of which was featured in a documentary

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been four years since the last Homeward Bound voyage to Antarctica. Here Women on Boards talks to Homeward Bound CEO and BirdLife Australia board member, Pamela Sutton Legaud, about the initiative and why returning to Antarctica is so important for the mission.

Tell us about the voyages which are leaving in November and who is going?

We’re just getting back on track now after the ravages of the pandemic. We’ve got two ships, both departing from different locations in Argentina within 10 days of each other which will transport 180 women from 25 countries. They come from all types of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths) backgrounds and from every continent including a shark behaviourist, a space engineer and an emergency physician. We've really got women from all kinds of backgrounds and ages. 

We've been working online together collaborating on different projects, but a lot of the women are in different countries, so they haven't met each yet, so that in itself is going to be very exciting.

One of the aims of Homeward Bound is to give women in STEMM a bigger voice. The theme of International Women's Day this year is also Cracking The Code: Innovation for a gender equal future. Are you hopeful that this message is coming through?

I definitely think that we're making progress and working with women who are already in STEMM fields or have a background in STEMM. One of the areas that is still a challenge is encouraging young girls to learn STEMM subjects which creates a bottleneck. We're not getting enough women coming through education so that's a global problem, particularly in tech roles and engineering roles.

Many of our participants have come out of university, they've started working, and they're looking to increase their visibility, enhance their, sometimes already existing leadership skills, to be more involved in the things that are important to them, those big decisions that we're facing as a planet. We need as many brains on these problems as possible. So we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but progress is being made.

Homeward Bound is very different from your average leadership program. What do the participants gain from going to Antarctica?

On the journey we are going into a very remote and extreme landscape and we are all working, on-board the ship.The voyage also involves leadership training, peer coaching, problem-solving and working collaboratively.

Many of the women develop their own projects that they end up working together on. But often, it's the first time, apart from perhaps a conference where these women are in with a group of other women in, with a STEMM background. They have not really had those opportunities to talk to one another.

Antarctica is the inspiration for collaboration for these leaders, a place to be inspired to work togethe. Seeing first-hand this dramatic landscape under attack from the climate cements the intention for the women to collaborate as leaders.

It’s quite an intense environment where they're spending a lot of time together. It’s also a highly reflective time. You are challenging participants to consider and understand their values and their leadership styles.

Also before people go to Antarctica,  we do what’s called a Lifestyle Index, LS1 and 2 which helps to assess some of their leadership potential and capacities that they then use to build on that and understand a bit more about themselves and each other.

And of course, as you know, Antarctica is changing, you know, so you get to see firsthand its fragility, and that's a critical part of the program. It’s a unique sort of capstone, if you'd like, for what is already a quite unique program.

Also it’s a global program and we get women from all over the world at different stages of their careers. These are opportunities to build relationships that perhaps wouldn't happen otherwise in sort of regular regular life and work.

What are some of the other challenges the women face?

One slightly different type of challenge is that many of the women fundraise to do this program and the voyage. Most of them have never fundraised before so that's a really interesting challenge in itself. I come from a fundraising background, and I know how hard it is. You have to ask, ‘Will I put myself out there?’ ‘How visible am I willing to be to have those conversations with sponsors or donors? Am I worthy enough to get that funding?

It gives them a great sense of achievement and also value. They realise “hey people value what I'm doing. It's not just about going to Antarctica, it's about, I'm investing in myself, I believe in myself and I want you to come on this journey with me”.

You joined Homeward Bound as CEO in 2021. What drew you to this role?

I really believe that to achieve and succeed in the not for-profit sector, you need to really care about the mission. My career has always focused on the needs of vulnerable women and children and endangered species.

While you wouldn’t describe these women as vulnerable - they are very accomplished in every way -  what resonated with me was that here was a fabulous group of women who needed much more visibility, and if I could assist in any way in their journey then I was delighted to do it. 

For example, we have a group of alums who are lobbying for new marine protected areas. We've got another group researching the big increase in plastic pollution during COVID. These women are doing wonderful, amazing things and I'm very proud to help them get visibility on what they're doing. The more profile we can give to women broadly, but also women with a STEMM background I feel like, in my small way, I'm contributing to helping to solve some of the world's problems.

What are the plans for Homeward Bound in the future?

We hope to engage with more women in STEMM, so we're looking at how best to continually improve the program so that more women can participate. We would like to increase the cultural and broad diversity of the women who are involved in the program.

To find out more visit www.homewardboundprojects.com.au

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