Largest all-female expedition to Antarctica sets off today

In 2014, Fabian Dattner, a well-known Australian entrepreneur and activist, had a somewhat peculiar dream: that she led a trip of 45 women scientists on a ship for a leadership training program. Two years later, Dattner’s dream has turned into reality. The Homeward Bound project, founded by Dattner and marine ecologist Dr. Jess Melbourne Thomas, will take 76 women of varied scientific backgrounds on a 20-day-long voyage to the Antarctic, in order to hone their leadership capabilities and brainstorm ways to improve the state of the world. As they set sail on this landmark voyage, DiscovHER takes a closer look at this ambitious initiative.

Homeward Bound is setting off today after two long years of preparation, and will be the largest all-female expedition to Antarctica ever undertaken. Seventy-six scientific women from around the world are setting off from Argentina on a mission to the south pole. Their goal? First, to improve their leadership capacities in concrete ways, in order to combat the global under-representation of women in scientific leadership roles: attrition rate from junior to senior levels across the sciences is 60% for women. Secondly, they will use this opportunity to brainstorm the best strategies to tackle climate change. Antarctica was chosen for its symbolic importance: a fragile ecosystem particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change.

The expedition is led by two illustrious Australian women: Fabian Dattner, entrepreneur, social activist and founding partner of Dattner Grant, and Dr. Jess Melbourne-Thomas, a researcher at the Australian Antarctic Division and a former Rhodes scholar. Both have set up initiatives for women, such as Compass, a leadership training initiative, or Women in Polar Science, supporting women scientists around the world. Their project is supported by globally-renowned experts across various scientific domains, from Dr. Jane Goodall to Christiana Figueres. The women scientists taking part in the voyage come from fields as diverse as engineering, astronomy and environmental sciences.

If this wasn’t impressive enough, the inaugural Homeward Bound voyage launched today is only the tip of the iceberg. The project’s founders are aiming to build a 1,000-strong network of women over 10 years, and the next voyage is scheduled for 2018. Future participants will have to be quick off the mark when applying (the next round of applications will begin in January 2017), as the current voyage was fully subscribed in mid-2015.

Whilst we can’t all take part in this incredible trip, we will nonetheless be able to follow the exploits of the participants. Production company Bunya Productions is making a documentary about the voyage, entitled Beautiful Minds – Agents of Change, to be released after the end of the voyage. 

Can you think of other ways to encourage women’s leadership in the sciences? Let us know @4womeninscience.

For Women in Science

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