This post is the third one of a series of four posts describing my voyage to Antarctica and experience as a participant of the women in science and leadership program Homeward Bound.
If you have missed the first ones, here they are: (1/4) – The sound of our collective voices was loud, very loud, as it should be, always, (2/4) – The Antarctica of many facets
“As in the Renaissance, it will be an exciting time, a time of great opportunities for those who can see and seize them, but of great threat and fear for many. It will be more difficult to hold organisations and societies together. The softer words of leadership and vision and common purpose will replace the tougher words of control and authority because the tough words won’t bite anymore. Organisations will have to become communities rather than properties, with members, not employees, because few will be content to be owned by others. Societies will break down into smaller units but will also regroup into even larger ones than now for particular purposes.” Charles Handy – Beyond Certainty: the Changing Worlds of Organisations, 1995
We learnt intensively during this 24/7 floating conference, between whale spotting and destabilising waves!
Here are a few of the many topics we covered.
Women voices are missing at the leadership table. Our world, currently led by men, is facing unprecedented challenges, to the point that we are threatening our own species with climate change. It seems to me that we cannot address fast enough the multiple existential crises humanity faces without solving the gender unbalance at the leadership table. Women bring a diversity of approaches and a whole range of complementary skills and styles in terms of science, and leadership more generally. Research finds that we have a legacy mind-set, we are collaborative, inclusive, honourable and have high integrity. Despite our many skills, women numbers in higher scientific education and research drop from 53% of female bachelor graduate to 28% of female researcher. Only 3% of the Scientific Nobel Prize winners are female. The pipeline is thus very leaky!
Why has all this potential been washed away? Is that because of a lack of encouragement from mentors in graduate schools? A lack of women role models? The imposter syndrome? Caring responsibilities? Pay gaps? Biases in hiring, awards and promotion? Harassment at work? … The fact that people continue to ascribe traits such as dominance and emotional stability to good leaders probably doesn’t help.
Many times on the ship, I got speechless when hearing about the many barriers and discriminations Homeward Bound participants had gone through.
(C) Top row: Oli Sansom | Homeward Bound
When I applied for the Homeward Bound program, I was asked to describe what leadership meant to me. Here is what I wrote: “This I believe that leadership is a privilege and responsibility to develop and share a vision and strategy, empower others, inspire them and make a positive change. Each of us has a particular gender, culture, values, professional and personal experiences… This human diversity provides an endless source of possibilities to move closer to a better world. A great leader makes the most of this diversity and its potential and help people shine individually, professionally and in interaction with others. This successful leadership leads to inspired teams, high quality project outputs and impacts.”
It’s time for all of us to explore our own leadership styles. It we want a transformational change in our society, we should not try to mimic the styles in place and in which many women (and men!) don’t feel comfortable. We are often inclined to be categorised, and it takes an extraordinarily strength, courage and resilience to go where no one has gone before. Being able to break the mould and still have enough people to welcome and accept the change and follow or support it can be challenging.
A significant revelation I had during this journey is that together, we are REALLY stronger. Over the last years, I often felt helpless in the face of challenges, energy and time constraints. I was also always impressed by others’ ideas and skills and saddened I hadn’t the same. Through Homeward Bound, I have experienced the true meaning and potential of collaboration and the value of asking for help. I was impressed by our daily discussions during which ideas from each of us were carefully listened to and finally merged into more meaningful and more powerful ones. I have also had many opportunities though this network of vibrant women (e.g. collaborations, media coverage, sponsorships, ideas), many more and much more meaningful than what I could have handled alone.
The World café is a great example of how to use our “collective brain”. It is a structured conversational process for knowledge sharing in which groups of people discuss a topic at several tables, with individuals switching tables periodically and getting introduced to the previous discussion at their new table by a “table host”. You may have experienced the World café in meetings or conferences. We used that process on board to discuss what we, as individual, collective and as a Homeward Bound movement could do to see more women leading in Science. I found that the World café was a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter and having all our voices heard.
Because, indeed, all voices matter. From the loudest to the quietest ones, from the conservative to the provocative ones. We had a large spectrum of voices on board and I really appreciated the effort we – supported by the leadership team – made to welcome and thank each of them. Having all voices heard meant everyone felt involved in the thinking process and as a consequence also involved at the action stage. Also, as mentioned above, the final outcome of listening to all voices was much more meaningful than if we had omitted some of them. I must admit, listening carefully to all voices on the ship required a lot of time and effort (I am not going to go into details about our many looong debates on board), but I am deeply convinced that this effort and time is what we need to truly transform our society.
Here are some examples of concepts we explored on board: critical friends, vulnerability, leadership styles, peer-coaching, the four perspectives of awareness, the art of providing feedback, science communication, reflective journaling, strategic visibility, personal and professional strategy mapping and core values (relationships, self, work).
I came back from this journey much lighter. I have reconnected with the humanistic awareness that this precious lifetime I have is not all about ME (my worries, my successes, my next job…), nor is it about YOU (how you see me, who you are, how you behave…), but it is rather about US – as a collective for the greater good. Thinking big, beyond myself, with a clear purpose, gives me wings. Once the purpose is clear, the paths to choose in life become more obvious and the challenges are overpassed much more easily 😀
Other posts about my journey to Antarctica: (1/4) – The sound of our collective voices was loud, very loud, as it should be, always , (2/4) – The Antarctica of many facets, (4/4) – So, what’s next?