This November, 180 women in STEMM will journey to Antarctica to hone their leadership skills and advance their knowledge about tackling climate change.
In 2019, Bernie-Anne Freeman RPEQ was leading a team of 10 male engineers, all of whom were older than her, when she first heard about the Homeward Bound voyage to Antarctica.
“At the time, I had been asked to lead a challenging program of work, so I was seeking something to level up my leadership skills,” says Bernie-Anne, a Principal Engineer (Resurfacing and Pavement Rehabilitation) at the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.
“The intersection of women in STEMM, women in leadership and sustainability are core themes of Homeward Bound that resonated with me.”
Bernie-Anne expressed her interest in the program right away and soon joined Homeward Bound, a global initiative established in 2015 to elevate the visibility of women in STEMM. She is one of almost 180 participants who are taking part in an 11-month virtual leadership program in the lead-up to the voyage to Antarctica this November. The three-week trip will consolidate many of their leadership learnings and provide the group with opportunities to learn about science, sustainability and leadership at scientific bases in Antarctica.
The women in STEMM come from 25 countries, including Australia, Panama, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Germany. On board the voyage will be professionals including a space engineer, a shark behaviourist and a chemical engineer.
“It’s evident working in STEM – and particularly in manufacturing which is a very male-dominated industry – how businesses and their people benefit from having diverse leaders,” says Hannah Campbell MIEAust CPEng, a chemical engineer working as a Production Manager for leading global industrial chemicals manufacturer, Incitec Pivot.
“To drive this change, we need to have more female role models to create a more diverse view of what a leader is. The opportunity to collaborate with women from all over the world and broaden my own thinking around this was a key driver for me in applying to Homeward Bound.”
Hannah views Homeward Bound as the ideal opportunity to build her skills as a leader, and be a role model for the younger generation.
“If we want to diversify future leadership in our industry, we have to be courageous and exemplify traits that are not typically viewed as essential for leaders. It is my hope that this will empower young women to aspire to be leaders for themselves.”
Visibility is not vanity
Through virtual training and coaching programs, Hannah and Bernie-Anne have honed their leadership styles and applied these lessons in their professions.
The concept of ‘host leadership’ resonated with Bernie-Anne in particular. This is the idea of a leader playing host to their team, providing opportunities for them to take the floor.
“A people-focused and collaborative leadership style is all about giving space for your team to grow,” says Bernie-Anne. “Leadership is all about your team, and you’re only as good as the team you have.”
A key mantra of the Homeward Bound program is that visibility is not vanity.
“Being visible and the vulnerability that comes with it, is something that myself and a lot of other women at Homeward Bound found challenging at the start of the program,” says Bernie-Anne.
But she’s learnt that being visible doesn’t mean shouting your achievements from the rooftop; it’s about sharing your valuable message and inspiring others to come along on that journey.
Since joining Homeward Bound, Bernie-Anne has taken up opportunities to position herself as a more visible leader in STEMM by speaking to school students during Science Week and high school students in the midst of deciding their university selections.
She also says the leadership lessons she’s learnt have revolutionised her approach in the workplace.
“I incorporate what I’ve learned on Homeward Bound into my leadership everyday. Defining my purpose and passion has also led me to work in sustainable pavement research.”
Hannah has joined the Engineers Australia’s Chemical College Board and become more involved with Chemistry Australia.
“They’ve been great opportunities to give back to my profession and shape the future of the industry. We’re thinking a lot about how we can improve visibility of, and trust in, the industry and bring more diverse thought into our strategies.”
Women in STEMM push for change
In years gone by, Homeward Bound participants have pursued a range of projects, many of which are geared towards closing the gender gap in STEMM and tackling climate change, after their voyage to Antarctica.
These have included a global review of gender inequality in STEMM and the founding of ANTARCTICA NOW – a group of alumnae lobbying for new Marine Protected Areas in Antarctica.
“If these women in STEMM and the Homeward Bound cohort level up their leadership as being trustworthy, legacy-focused and sustainability-minded leaders, then their decisions can influence wide-ranging issues, including climate, our environment and social inequities,” says Bernie-Anne.
Passionate about STEMM education, Hannah hopes to engage with projects that entice young girls to study STEMM subjects, and for them to know what doorways can be opened.
“I want them to feel supported to follow these pathways. STEMM is a critical foundation for so many different industries, so it’s critical to our world that we have these young girls coming through,” she says.
“A few of us in the group have been talking about how we can support the future of STEMM education, both locally and abroad. This voyage to Antarctica puts women who are thriving in their professions in the spotlight. It’s an exciting adventure and it’s a great way to encourage younger girls to go into STEMM.”
Engineers Australia will be marking International Women’s Day 2023 with in-person events in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Register here to attend.