December 7, 2018 | Published by | ,

by Melissa Hart (CLEX Graduate Director)
As a woman in science I have become quite used to often being the only woman in a meeting, or attending conferences where the vast majority of keynote speakers are men. I say I have become used to these situations, but I am never actually comfortable in them.

When you are the only woman in the room, it is quite easy to feel like an impostor. And the numbers don’t stack up; women are at parity with men in under and postgraduate degrees, yet they make up less than a quarter of university professors. In the climate sciences I can count easily on one hand the number of women at Professorial level (a big congratulations to the recently promoted Professor Katrin Meissner and Professor Moninya Roughan!).

Biases against women in science are both implicit and explicit.And we all exhibit biases, regardless of our gender. A study found that men “and” women faculty ranked a job applicant called “John” more competent, suitable for hire, and offered a higher salary, than when the exact same application was labeled “Jennifer”.

Furthermore, woman postdoctoral applicants have to publish at least three times as many papers in prestigious journals to be judged as successful as male applicants.

Organisations that are diverse and equitable are often more productive and innovative. Consider the loss of intellectual capacity we experience by not involving women in an equitable way, and by not elevating them to leadership positions.

Within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes we have a strategic objective to “provide an outstanding environment for all involved in the Centre”. Part of this objective is our implementation of a Culture and Diversity committee.   Within this committee we have developed a centre equity plan which has equity objectives around: recruitment and retention; an inclusive centre; and wellbeing and centre culture.

With the centre’s support I have recently completed the Homeward Bound Women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine) leadership program.

Homeward Bound has a long-term goal to build and support, over the next 10 years, a global network of 1000 women focusing on the leadership and strategy required to contribute towards a more sustainable future. Each year’s cohort undertakes a year-long program to develop leadership, strategic and communication capabilities, culminating in a 3-week voyage to Antarctica. 

Antarctica is chosen as the backdrop as it provides a perfect location for an introspective program, does not belong to any one country, and prior to the 1960s many countries did not allow women scientists to travel there. Homeward Bound is creating the largest ever all women expeditions to Antarctica.

I was one of 78 women, from 23 countries, selected via a globally competitive process, to join the program’s second cohort. The women came from all sectors of STEMM, and consisted of one-third early career, one-third mid-career, and one-third senior STEMM professionals.

The program is delivered remotely, via Zoom, over 11 months, and then in February, 2018 we met in Ushuaia, Argentina, to board a recommissioned NOAA research vessel on a 3-week expedition to Antarctica.

During the voyage we spent half of each day working on the program, and the other half on Antarctic land visits, including visits to five research stations where we learned about the science program and were able to ask questions about leading in such a remote environment.

The Homeward Bound program consists of lectures, personal and leadership development tools, coaching sessions, visibility and science communication training and the opportunity to develop collaborations. We all came out of the program with insight into our individual leadership style and strategies to make it more effective, our own personal visibility goals, and a 100 day strategy plan to put this all in place.

What I believe to be one of the fundamental outcomes of this program is the network of Homeward Bound women now growing globally. This network has now become a brains trust we can all call on at any time for advice, mentoring, or simply sharing of experiences as women working in STEMM. This network has led to new collaborations that have resulted in prizes, grants and publications, and I find myself continuously benefiting from it in my career. I look forward to seeing what a network of 1000 women can achieve at the culmination of the Homeward Bound initiative.

I invite members of CLEX to consider what equity in STEMM should look like, and encourage women to consider the Homeward Bound program. I am more than happy to answer any questions about the program or the application process.