Celebrating Women in STEMM with Homeward Bound

On the evening of March 15, a group of over thirty scientists gathered in a small private function space above Ye Olde Cock Tavern on Fleet Street, in London. Unusually for a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine) gathering, the vast majority of the attendees were women, brought together by Homeward Bound

A group gathered informally around tables in a pub, watching a panel discussion.  The majority of the people in the photograph are women.
Homeward Bound Alumni gathering on March 15th 2024, with over 30 attendees.

Leading for a better future

Homeward Bound describes itself as a “Global Leadership Initiative” that has the ambitious aim of building an international network of 10,000 women and non-binary people, all with backgrounds in STEMM, by 2036. Each year, participants are selected from those who apply based on their potential to lead and to create better outcomes for the planet and its inhabitants. The programme, which involves a year of online leadership training followed by a global meetup of participants, is aimed at increasing their visibility and strategic capability, and equipping them with the skills required to take up global leadership roles. It is hoped that this will improve the balance of men and women, as well as scientists and non-scientists, leading our world as we face an increasingly uncertain future due to climate change, and that this will in turn result in better decision-making for both people and the planet.

Expedition to Antarctica

The most visible part of Homeward Bound historically has been the expedition to Antarctica with which the programme culminates. On board ship, women who have got to know each other online during the twelve-month programme meet in person, and the training and reflection continue on board in a more intensive setting against the inspirational backdrop of Antarctica, where the impact of the accelerating change in our climate is keenly felt. The first such Homeward Bound expedition was, at the time, the largest ever all-female expedition to the southernmost continent, with seventy-six participants; it attracted significant media attention, though subsequent Homeward Bound voyages have been larger. Since the current Homeward Bound cohort—Homeward Bound 8 (HB8)—recently received their contracts for the 2025 voyage, this element of the programme was much discussed during the evening. 

An insert with panellist details, entitled "Homeward Bound UK alumni", reads as follows:
Dr Carole Durussel, HB5 (photo: a white woman with brown shoulder-length hair worn lose, in a
striking bright blue jacket), Deputy Secretary at the OSPAR Commission. Carole was hooked on
ocean conservation from a young age. She has a PhD in international environmental law and has
been working for 10+ years with policy makers to support science-based decision making for
biodiversity conservation in the high seas.
Alex Jenkin, HB4 (photo: a white woman with short blond hair wearing a multi-coloured shirt),
Project manager for the Science and Plants for Schools Programme. Alexandra is a specialist
in science communication working in science education for 12: years. She travelled to
Antarctica with HB in 2019.
Dr Harriet Teare, HB6 (photo: a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a red
thermal jacket and black woolly hat sits at a table on the deck of a ship, a meal on a plate in front
of her, with water, snow covered ground and blue skies streaked with white clouds visible behind
her), senior civil servant at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Harriet is interested in the interplay between decisions relevant to individual health and that of the
planet, and has recently returned from the Antarctica trip with Homeward Bound.
Dr Madeleine Hann, HB3 (photo: a white woman with long brown hair wearing a multi-coloured
top and dark jumper), geographer leading transformation in specialist areas of UK government.
Madeleine grew up in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and has interests and expertise in remote
sensing, and training and education.
Dr Rebecca Wade, HB5 (photo: a white woman with long brown hair wearing a red thermal jacket,
standing in front of open water with an icy cliff in the background), senior lecturer in environmental
science at Abertay University, Dundee. Rebecca’s work focuses on sustainable water management,
she is an award-winning STEM ambassador, was named “woman of influence 2022” by Action for
Children Scotland, and took part in the HB Antarctica voyage last year.
Kym Hamer – Moderator (photo: a white woman with short dark hair wearing glasses, a dark shirt
and a striking yellow jacket). Kym has over 30 years in strategy, marketing and innovation where
she inspires and equips people to create more high value opportunities by unlocking their greatest

asset – themselves. Among the best in B2B leadership, personal branding and thought leaders in
Entrepreneurship as well as host of the podcast “Building Brand You”, Kym is faculty lead with
Homeward Bound Projects, currently on HB8.
Also visible in the image is a QR code leading to booking details for the event, which was on
Friday 15 March 2024 at 18:30pm in Holborn. Tickets cost £15 and included entry and
snacks. The booking information is marked “open to all”.

Making an impact

The meeting began with a panel discussion featuring five alumni of previous Homeward Bound cohorts: Dr Madeleine Hann (HB3), a geographer leading transformation in specialist areas of UK Government; Alex Jenkin (HB4), a science communicator and project manager for the Science and Plants for Schools project; Dr Carole Durussel (HB5), ocean conservationist and Deputy Secretary at the OSPAR Commission; Dr Harriet Teare (HB6), a senior civil servant at the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency); and Dr Rebecca Wade (HB5), senior lecturer in Environmental Science at Abertay University in Dundee, who was able to attend the event thanks to sponsorship from Glasgow 2024.  

The conversation was led by Kym Hamer, expert in strategy and marketing and faculty lead for HB8, who had the very broad remit of discussing the impact that Homeward Bound had on the panellists, their lives, and careers. Kym skilfully guided the conversation through a wide range of topics and gave the panellists the opportunity to share their experiences of all aspects of the programme, from how they came to apply for Homeward Bound to the online elements of the programme, and of course the trip to Antarctica and their experiences on board ship.

Two white women with shoulder-length brown hair smile for the
camera, holding between them a postcard showing an artistic depiction of
a fantastical woman with green skin and horns smelling a purple thistle.
The postcard says "Glasgow" at the bottom.
Event organiser and fan, Dr Emma J King (HB8, left) with panellist Dr Rebecca Wade (HB5, right), who was sponsored to attend the event by Glasgow 2024.

The online programme

Several panellists had discovered Homeward Bound through family, friends, or colleagues at points where they were looking for renewed direction and focus in their lives, which they felt the programme had offered them. Alex talked about how it had highlighted for her the difference between the way she viewed herself and the way others view her, and the positive impact this has had on her perception of herself. This is covered in 1:1 coaching sessions during the year-long online programme using the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) assessment. Harriet shared her achievement of creating and implementing her personal strategy map, this being another core element of the year-long course that encourages participants to think strategically about how to implement their long term goals, and equips them with the tools to do so, guided by personal strategy expert Kit Jackson. Rebecca highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary work when addressing the challenges facing the planet, and talked about how Homeward Bound had given her precious time to work on her own development, something that is often overlooked in otherwise busy schedules.  

Voyage of discovery

During an insightful discussion about the barriers women face to working in STEMM careers and leadership roles, especially the impact of imposter syndrome, Madeleine shared her experience from on board ship when the whole group had been asked, with eyes closed, to raise their hands if they had expected to be selected for Homeward Bound. From the entire group, only one woman did so. Kym shared her own insights into the opportunities given by the amazing community and wonderfully safe space that Homeward Bound creates, particularly on board ship, and the group discussed the powerful experience of feeling able to show up authentically on the voyage and being met with incredible warmth and friendship by everyone on board, something that was echoed by several of the panellists.

A new path for the future

A group of white women in casual dress pose, smiling, for the camera.
One holds a small cuddly penguin.
Panellists and organisers of the event. Back (left to right): Gemma Small, Dr Alba Fernández-Sanlés, Dr Madeleine Hann, Alex Jenkin, Dr Carole Durussel, Dr Harriet Teare, Dr Rebecca Wade, Kym Hamer. Front (left to right): Dr Emma J King, Dr Lynda Donaldson, Dr Katie King.

The decision for Homeward Bound to visit Antarctica has become increasingly controversial in recent years, with challenges posed regarding the damage done to this once-pristine wilderness by tourists, even those intent on saving it. The panel discussed the merits of the voyage at some length, with all the panellists recounting the inspiration they had found by visiting such a unique and remote location, and the determination they had developed to make the trip count by becoming ambassadors for both the continent and the planet. Carole had always wanted to visit Antarctica and the high seas, which she is passionate about protecting, and shared how Homeward Bound renewed her commitment to fight for the planet at a time when she had been thinking of giving up, while Rebecca spoke eloquently about how small and humble she had felt against this incredible backdrop to the voyage, how she had been moved to tears by the beauty and isolation of the place, and how she had felt fragile and vulnerable in a place that she knew she would not survive unaided. She shared how being there has given her an immense drive to protect Antarctica, and how she has since felt compelled to leverage her trip to help her gain visibility and enable her to increase her impact, thus making the experience as valuable as possible not just for herself but for the planet.

Despite all the alumni agreeing that this aspect of the programme held immense value to them, Homeward Bound has taken the decision that the 2025 expedition to Antarctica will be their last. However powerful the experience, the impact of the travel cannot be ignored in the face of the accelerating pace of climate change, but Homeward Bound is committed to continuing to provide an opportunity for each cohort to meet in person for an experiential part of the programme, albeit in a different setting, as yet to be determined.

Wider discussion

The event was organised by HB8 Collective Impact Group 4—Dr Emma J King, science communicator and fan; Dr Alba Fernández-Sanlés, biomedical researcher; Lizzy Crotty, conservationist; Dr Katie King, nanomedicine researcher; Gemma Small, sustainability engineer; Dr Lynda Donaldson, conservation scientist; and Natalia Atuesta-Escobar, conservationist. The audience was made up of a mixture of Homeward Bound alumni and interested members of the public, some of whom were considering applying to Homeward Bound themselves. Discussion continued after the panel and into the evening, as the panellists mingled with the audience for drinks and availed themselves of an excellent buffet provided by the venue. It was a lively atmosphere, with much passionate discussion about Homeward Bound, Antarctica, women’s leadership, and environmental issues.  

To find out more about Homeward Bound visit homewardboundprojects.com.au.

The 82nd Worldcon will take place in Glasgow, August 8–12, 2024. We can’t wait to welcome you to Glasgow and the SEC/Armadillo for a Worldcon for Our Futures.

Emma is a neurodivergent science communicator, space enthusiast and long time fan.  She studied Astrophysics at university and has worked in a range of diverse fields.  She is a member of the Homeward Bound 8 cohort, has twice applied (unsuccessfully) for the position of Astronaut with the European Space Agency, and currently works in the UK Space Agency’s Sustainability department.  Her first convention was Intersection, the 1995 Worldcon in Glasgow, and she is on the committee for FunCon 1: Space Leopards (Probably) Won’t Eat Your Face.