Bernie Freeman - Article

I’ve just wrapped up the first part of an experience like no other. It all began in June 2019, when I was selected for the fifth cohort Homeward Bound (HB), a global leadership program for women in STEM. This connects likeminded women from around the globe for an intensive online leadership program that culminates with a voyage to Antarctica.

Over the past two years, with the support of the Institute of Public Works Engineering (IPWEAQ) and my employer (Department of Transport and Main Roads), I’ve been completing the Homeward Bound online learning and leadership program. This program fosters connection and encourages collaboration to enhance leadership to create a better world. The philosophy of HB looks to develop leaders that are legacy-minded, trustworthy, and inclusive of all, and support women to take on leadership roles.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has placed our trip to Antarctica on hold until international borders reopen, it’s been an opportunity to observe global leadership in action during a crisis. Discussing how different nations, workplaces and families have dealt with the pandemic and hearing how it has impacted women in STEM, has been a great privilege to be part of a global community during this time. Among this network of HB women, those in frontline health care and epidemiology through to other areas of STEM, each of us had a different experience to convey about this shared challenge. With the life changing consequences of this pandemic so evident, it really highlighted the importance of inclusive leadership and decision making.

Having recently wrapped up the online component of the program, it’s encouraged me to pause and reflect on the past two years of leadership masterclasses. The following are my top three leadership learnings that you can put into action today:


Learning #1: ‘Visibility without value is vanity’ – Bernard Kelvin Clive.
To be a leader who achieves positive change you must master being visible to yourself, to others (your team), and to the wider community. Visibility starts by looking internally – knowing who you are, your story, values and goals. Here the art of storytelling is critical, because if we can’t share who we are, how can we inspire others? Good communication is a must to ensure your message reaches your audience and has the desired impact.

But there’s a catch. To enact positive change, you need to ask yourself: how do my stories serve others? Creating effective, visible leadership starts with a worthwhile purpose and vision, that’s targeted towards a mindset of helping others. Leaders understand and listen to their audience to ensure their stories and messages meet the needs of the people they serve.

For me, as a leader, I’m working to create an inclusive and sustainable workplace for my team, where everyone can achieve their own personal goals, while working towards our collective goal.
During the HB program, one way we put these skills into practice is through sharing our messages on leadership, women in STEM, diversity, inclusion and sustainability on social media (known as our virtual voyage).


Learning #2: Reflecting – Take a moment on the balcony
Personal reflection on leadership and learnings was a key part of the program, where we were encouraged to think deeply, be more self-aware, seek improvement, and challenge assumptions. One of the key techniques used was to ‘get off the dance floor’ (amongst the action), and up onto the Balcony (to reflect and look at the bigger picture). This metaphor was used to remove emotion, and instead help gain perspective (balcony) to have the clarity to appropriately intervene (on dance floor).

We used this technique to reflect on our own power and privilege and how we could use our status to help enact positive change. This process required us to take the time to consider: how do we use power? Do we hold onto it ourselves, thrust it onto others or share it constructively? We also considered how our own power and privilege can help foster inclusive spaces and welcome diversity in all its forms.


Learning #3: Likening leaders to hosts of the party!
We discussed several different leadership approaches throughout the program, but one of my favourites was the concept of host leadership (because everyone enjoys a party!). This model likens leadership qualities to traits of a host, including welcoming, introducing and including guests, and allowing them to explore the environment and participate in the event. Hosts take action – they step forward, plan, invite, introduce others, and provide, but also act in service – stepping back, encouraging, giving space as well as joining in. This metaphor is applicable to our professional teams, and I found this really resonated with me, in my support of others, building connection and maintaining positive relationships is at the heart of this philosophy.

They say the people you surround yourself with are the most likely to rub off on you and that definitely rings true with the diverse community of superstar STEM professionals I have connected with through the HB program. While we await our journey south to Antarctica, we have plenty of time to put our many learnings into practice.


A short poem that summarises this experience was shared with us in our final HB online masterclass, titled: Our Greatest Fear by Marianne Williamson.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

Author: Bernie-Anne Freeman, Principal Engineer, Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads
This article is republished from IPWEA Queensland (IPWEAQ) Engineering for Public Works Journal – Issue 24, December 2021
Read the original article here

Image: Supplied + Homeward Bound Virtual Voyage 2020