Cécile’s journey to Antarctica to break the glass ceiling

April 16th, 2018

Cécile Godde is a PhD student with CSIRO and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Science (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

Cécile Godde is passionate about creating a healthier and more equitable planet and recently received the 2018 QLD Women in STEM award for her research and involvement in gender equity. Through her work, she aims at informing policy and decision-making to feed the world more sustainably and equitably, now and in the future. She has a particular interest in livestock production systems and assesses, through computer modelling, the relationship between grass-fed livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats), food security, biodiversity, and climate change.

However, she believes that the lack of women leading in science is still an obstacle to achieve a more sustainable world. This has led her to take part in the worldwide and world-class leadership, strategic and science initiative and outreach for women: the Homeward Bound initiative. This year-long program, which she describes here culminated with a three-week voyage to Antarctica, from which she has just come back! Read about her experience below.

Photo credit: Cécile Godde.

I am slowly adjusting to life in the ‘real world’ – its trees, colours, smells, fresh vegetables, comfortable bed, gym, people, social media, shopping malls, cars, responsibilities… which is not always easy. My life here is exactly as I left it a month ago: busy, messy, exciting. But I come back into the ‘real world’ as a grown up woman.

The voyage to Antarctica, was incredible. I am coming back full of hope, deeply inspired and emotionally energized; a truly unforgettable experience, one that will keep me reflecting for a lifetime.

On the 18th of February, I embarked into an incredible voyage to Antarctica, together with 78 other women from all cultures and backgrounds, from PhD students to a Nobel Prize winner. Despite our diversity, we all shared in common commitment to elevate our collective and individual voices to influence decision-making for a more sustainable future.

Our days in Antarctica typically followed a similar routine:  half of the day was dedicated to a landing (we visited Argentinian, Chinese, US and UK research stations) and the other half to classes and workshops. We discussed systemic gender issues and learnt about leadership styles, peer-coaching, the art of providing feedback, the concept of critical friends and vulnerability, science communication, reflective journaling, strategic visibility, personal and professional strategy mapping, core values…

In theory, the evenings were our down time, but in reality, as passionate and enthusiastic women, we would use this time to catch up on our new learnings, refine our “strategy maps” or “core values” and run after each other to prepare workshops and media materials, discuss collaborations, practice our peer-coaching skills, or watch our filmed faculty sharing their tips with us on TV (e.g. Primatologist Dr Jane Goodall , world leading marine biologist Sylvia Earle, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCC Christiana Figueres…). We also had a collective art project “Confluence: A Journey Homeward Bound” which was underpinned by our inner journey of reflection, growth and transformation and our outer physical journey to Antarctica. My favourite downtime activities were our rocky yoga classes in the communal area, our daily mindfulness exercises included in the Homeward Bound program and my daydreaming in bed looking at the icebergs through my little porthole.

I learnt intensively during this 24/7 floating conference, in the midst of majestic icebergs, very cute penguins, graceful whales and extraordinary women!

Here are some key messages I’d like to share:

Women are missing at the scientific and leadership table. For example, in science, while about half of the students in scientific higher education are females, only half of them become researchers. The pipeline is thus very leaky. This is a shame because women bring a diversity of approaches and a whole range of complementary skills and styles in terms of science, and leadership. I think that these skills would help us address faster our global environmental and climate change issues.

It’s time for all of us to explore our own leadership styles. If 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.

Creating a safe space with our colleagues is crucial so that people feel comfortable collaborating, providing and receiving constructive feedbacks, supporting each other, sharing their doubts, mistakes for better outcomes. On the ship, we created a safe space by setting our ground rules (e.g. respect yourself and others, be kind to yourself and others…) as well as identified our individual and collective values. To ensure no group division, we were invited to sit next to the people we knew the less. Blind votes were organised when thought legitimate, constructive feedbacks were encouraged and open frame sessions were held every morning.

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, 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, but I am deeply convinced that this effort and time is what we need to truly transform our society.

I came back from this journey much lighter. I believe more than ever that this precious lifetime I have is not only about ME (my worries, my successes, my next job…), nor is it only about YOU, but it is also 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.

So Cécile, what’s next? This is a question I have been asked many times since I came back from Antarctica.

Armed with strategy maps, a 100-day plan and an incredible network to support me in the rolling seas of challenges, I am itching to be the change I seek. Homeward Bound has given us priceless ideas, knowledge, tools and a powerful social networks to unfold into our potential and build on the strength we each hold inside us. It’s one thing to share a story, it’s another to be part of that change.  Action speaks louder than words. Thus, the hard, although rewarding, work of living our learning begins!

All around the world, groups of men and women are undertaking a silent revolution, the Homeward Bound movement being one of them. Knowing that we are not alone fighting for a positive change gives me hope.

While we were in Antarctica, 750 million people were reached with our story. Why? Because, and may we never forget, the world believes in us (us in its broadest sense: humans, scientists, women, Homeward Bound…), our skill, compassion and capability.

I am staying involved in Homeward Bound, helping the initiative’s healthy growth. I am sharing my learnings on social media, in schools, on the radio, in newspapers as well as at work, from my research team to the University and company Executive Team.

I feel very privileged and more than ever, a sense of responsibility for the voices of women and men from all around the world who don’t have the same emotional, intellectual, physical and financial support as I do, but who are what our world needs, more than ever!

By the way, did I forget to mention in this post that I plunged in the icy seas? Twice!!

About Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound aims, over 10 years, to heighten the influence and impact of a 1000 women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet. Homeward Bound includes a year-long science, leadership, strategic and communication training. It culminates with a 3-week voyage to Antarctica. Applications for the 2020 voyage will open soon at the Homeward Bound website – Stay tuned!

Follow Cécile’s research and Homeward Bound experience on her Blog, Twitter and LinkedIn

“In the communal area of the ship, the collective sound of our women voices was loud, very loud, as it should be always”Cécile Godde

Photo credits: Cécile Godde and Homeward Bound.