It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel written in a bygone cultural era: a group of female scientists as well as leaders in policy and business set sail for Antarctica on a mission to save the world.
But that’s not far from the vision behind Homeward Bound, dreamed up (quite literally) by leadership expert Fabian Dattner, who intends to set sail for 20 days with 90 women from around the globe.
The idea, Dattner said, came to her in a dream in 2014, not long after she spent time consulting with female scientists in Tasmania.
“My company, Dattner Grant offers an international leadership program called Compass. It was through this program that I came to work with a group of women from the Australian Antarctic Division and UNICEF Tasmania. In the course of working with these very intelligent women – some of them with double PhDs and having visited Antarctica 20 times or more – that a kind of grief emerged.
“There was a kind of joke among the women working in polar science that you had to have a beard to get anywhere in your career,” she said. It’s this problem that Dattner sees in nearly every organisation around the world, and it’s a problem she believes is preventing us from reaching a sustainable society.
“That night I had a dream that I’d take 45 women to Antarctica and provide them with state of the art leadership and execution skills within a climate science framework, so that they’d be able to go back to their lives and and positively influence policy and science all over the world. I dreamed it would be called Homeward Bound and the vision was so strong I had to begin exploring the idea.”
Dattner contacted another research scientist from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), Jess Melbourne-Thomas to see if she thought the idea was feasible.
“Fabian’s vision was very compelling from the very beginning,” Melbourne-Thomas said. “Everyone just got it.
“The idea of a boatload of women going to Antarctica together is quite novel, but there’s an absolute need for better representation of women at the leadership table – especially women with a science background who understand climate change and sustainability. That need was so clear that as soon as we begun discussing it with others, it just began to snowball.”
Initially the project was quickly endorsed by leaders within the AAD, but the group met challenges in having the expedition leave from Tasmania. By July 2015, Dattner and Melbourne-Thomas made the decision to depart from South America instead, which was the moment things “really started to fall into place,” Dattner explained.
“We now have our own ship that’s due to depart on the 1st of December. Greg Mortimer is the only man on board apart from one of the film crew, otherwise it’s 90 women.
“That number includes social scientists, ecologists, psychologist, zoologists, marine ecologist, antarctic specialists – you name it.”
The expedition has also attracted a documentary crew, which is to be directed by Greer Simpkin, former deputy head of fiction for the ABC and producer of recently released thriller ‘Goldstone’, which made waves when it opened at the Sydney Film Festival.
Homeward Bound isn’t intended to be a one-off expedition, either. The initiative that Dattner and Melbourne-Thomas have co-founded aims to eventually reach, network together and align 1000 women from a multitude of disciplines and countries, with the most important work to occur after each expedition has taken place over a ten-year period.
“It’s not about conducting research,” said Melbourne-Thomas. “It’s about the journey for the women involved and developing them in such a way that they can do back into their lives and their work and have a greater impact on decision making and be engaged. That’s the metaphor in the Homeward Bound name.”