Meet Lauren Fritz, a PhD student in marine mammal ecology based at the University of California who initially studied chemical engineering and developed a love for the ocean when she studied abroad in Perth, Australia. Lauren is a member of HB8 who spends several months each winter working in the Antarctic as a guest scientist onboard cruise ships, collecting health and behavioral data on humpback whales and other cetacean species. Apart from her studies, much of her time is dedicated to wildlife photography and writing.

Portrait Credit: Oscar Ferrera

What are you most proud of in your current work/project/life?

This is perhaps a bit of a non-traditional answer to this question. I am currently taking great pride in the fact that I am no longer tying my sense of self-worth to my productivity, and I am valuing my mental health over the need to satisfy capitalistic expectations. I’ve seen a number of people around me that are living through fear. Fear dictates their decisions, their mindsets, their goals for the future. I’ve fallen prey to this fear, particularly in light of the pandemic. When my line of work (marine ecotourism) was essentially wiped off the drawing board, I had to look elsewhere to apply my passion and work ethic. I felt like, because I wasn’t being productive, I was failing. That’s capitalism for you. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt the need to completely reevaluate everything I knew. 

By taking care of my needs and ensuring that I am cared for, I can present a stronger version of myself to the world.

I feel more in flow with who I am, and what I want to accomplish, and I have developed an understanding of how my gifts can help the planet. By allowing myself to be vulnerable through optimism, humility, and empathy, I have been able to overcome a number of difficult situations throughout my life. I imagine there will be many more to come, but armed with the tools I have now and those I will gain with Homeward Bound, I am ready for this journey of continual growth. 

Lauren Fritz in Antarctica

Lauren Fritz on assignment in Antarctica. Credit: Supplied.

Please share a few of your personal motivations, everyday life, and daily routines.

I truly try to find joy in the little moments of each day. (American poet) Walt Whitman once said: “Happiness, not in another place, but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”

For me, this looks like walking my dog, snuggling with my dog, making coffee, sitting and staring outside with no particular goal in mind, reading, journaling, walking, and doing yoga.

A daily routine certainly helps me stay centered and motivated. So does calling my parents and friends. When I prioritize these beautiful little experiences, I am better able to dedicate focused time to my work.

I also try to drink lots of water and cook nutritious plant-based foods. We have the opportunity to advocate for societal changes simply by carefully choosing what we eat, and it gives me great joy to share food with loved ones.

Whale photo by Lauren Fritz Taken under NMFS Permit 23095 and ACA Permit 2020-016

Whales in Antarctica. Credit: Lauren Fritz, taken under NMFS Permit 23095 and ACA Permit 2020-016

What is some of the best leadership advice you have been given/seen/read … and/or that you have to offer personally?

I have seen firsthand how human connection is the key to breaking down emotional armor and initiating change. When a leader can create a space where others feel safe to be vulnerable, that is powerful. A strong leader is one with self-awareness, who can feel brave and afraid at the same time and is willing to show up, no matter what. One of my favourite authors, Brené Brown, defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” She says it’s simply not possible to be a transformational leader without vulnerability – because with no vulnerability, there is no creativity. We need to feel safe to share our ideas, our feelings, without fear of being ridiculed. We are human – perfection is not the goal.

Good leadership means embracing the fact that you will fail at times, and that is a good thing. It also means being able to share stories in an appropriate context; boundaries are needed. 

I full-heartedly embrace this approach. It’s often uncomfortable, but I continue to try and show my empathetic side in the workplace to encourage those around me to open up. I have no interest in living a surface-level life; I am here to embrace the messy, emotional, creative side in each of us and go deep. 

Lauren Fritz HB8 collecting plastic on beach

Collecting plastic rubbish on a beach. Credit: Fiona Wardle

What are the key issues in your field that need addressing with visible female leadership?

As a woman who has been navigating multiple male-dominated STEMM fields for 15 years, I see a great need for feminine energy and insight in positions of influence. I have a strong background in STEMM through my Chemical Engineering undergraduate degree and my current academic research on marine mammal behavioral ecology in the polar regions. I’ve seen examples of effective, compassionate leadership in these fields, as well fear-based control, but the majority of these roles are filled by males.

Without many female role models to look up to, I pushed myself through years of difficult coursework and low-paying positions with the belief that one day I could be that role model for someone.

At this point in my career, I feel very ready to step up and show up in my communities as a powerful leader. 

Seal by Lauren Fritz HB8

Seal in Antarctica. Supplied.

With this in mind, I think a key issue that needs addressing is showing how the lack of female leaders is holding back our intellectual and emotional development as a society.

I’ve seen firsthand how women empower others to rise up – we have an ability to inspire others to reach their true potential. 

We tend to have high levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which allows us to tune into others’ emotions and use language to connect with others. Empathy and decisiveness can – and do – go together.

I know the worlds of academia and marine science need more female leadership in order for us to connect and understand each other. Only then can we move forward and work together to address the ways we are harming our planet.

Lauren Fritz wildlife photographer

Lauren Fritz is also a wildlife photographer. Credit: Supplied.

How do you feel that Homeward Bound can help you to become a more effective leader and what are your hopes for your participation?

I know I can benefit from gaining confidence and practical skills through the Homeword Bound initiative. I have the passion and motivation to work for the greater good, but need support as I navigate a challenging system that was not constructed with women in mind. I often struggle to feel like I am being heard and am unsure how I can advocate for myself – I still have this fear of being perceived as “pushy” or “overly emotional.”

I think Homeward Bound will equip me with the strength and awareness needed to improve my self-confidence. As they say – Mother Nature needs her daughters.

I am ready to embrace my full potential. I have the drive to learn how and the humility to know I have a long way to go. I don’t shy away from a challenge, and I know that the hardest tasks are made easier through teamwork and collaboration. As a graduate student at a high-profile research institution, I have the platform to network and work with many conservation leaders and organizations and the needed support. As a passionate creative and blogger, I have the talents and skills to create meaningful media to showcase Homeward Bound’s mission and the many lessons I learn. I am in a position to accept leadership, and I know HB would equip me to take this next step. 

Read more about Lauren on the Homeward Bound website

Visit Lauren’s website The Greenest Blue

Read a recent article about Lauren

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