Kate MacMaster is the lead facilitator on the Homeward Bound The Ushuaia voyage which departs Ushuaia, Argentina on November 3. The Principal Consultant at Bendelta and a certified coach was a participant on the first Homeward Bound voyage in 2016 and is a member of Homeward Bound’s leadership faculty (HB2 to HB5).
The Ushuaia voyage is hosting participants from Homeward Bound 5 and 7, as well as faculty and invited participants. For the Homeward Bound 5 participants, the voyage is a long time coming. This cohort completed the online component of the leadership initiative in 2021 and have been waiting for the lifting of COVID related travel restrictions to complete their leadership journey with Homeward Bound with the 3-week transformational voyage to Antarctica.
Lead facilitator on The Ushuaia, Kate MacMaster. Credit: Supplied
Interview by Gaia Wright Willemsen
What will your main responsibilities be on board the ship?
I’ll be playing the lead role in basically coordinating the overall program. This involves on shore landings on the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands, as well as the leadership program on the ship. So that will involve anything from designed sessions for content, as well as we’re allowing for whatever emerges based on what the women bring in that moment. My role is really coordinating all of the faculty to be able to design and deliver what the program is allowing for, as well as to coordinate the program with the captain, and also the expedition leader. It’s really a high-level overarching role to make sure that the program happens, taking consideration of everyone’s wellbeing, and just really making sure that there’s a really great flow to the three weeks on the ship.
There’s a lot of relationship building involved, isn’t there?
It’s all about relationships.
A critical part of the role is around creating safety, both in terms of physical and psychological safety for the faculty and the women. The faculty will get together a couple of days before the women in Ushuaia, and we’ll spend a couple of days building our team building belonging, building connection, forming those relationships, and that high level of safety and trust that we need with each other to be able to be able to take women to such a remote location.
Once the participants arrive, we have a day together in Ushuaia to build that trust, to build that safety, and enable space for the women to create those connections. We started the program just before the pandemic hit (in 2019), so a lot of the women know each other already. Many of them have met face to face in different locations around the world. But Ushuaia is the first time that we’ll all be together face to face.
Over the years, we’ve often talked about how exciting that moment will be after such a long time together virtually, to be in one room together to start that relationship building in person. It will be very important.
Photo: Homeward Bound 1 in Antarctica in 2016. Credit: supplied
The voyage to Antarctica looks to be an intensive and challenging experience. How are you and the faculty preparing yourselves?
There are four cohorts who have been before us (HB1-4), so we’ll be building on the learnt experience of others before us: listening deeply and building on the strengths of what has worked before, and what hasn’t worked. There’s been a lot of program iteration and design changes to ensure success. We are thinking about: how do you mentally prepare to be in a remote location? What are some of the strategies you can put in place now to prepare leaving family for such a long time? And potentially being offline as well, because there’s no internet down there, on a ship, in a confined space with lots of other people, coming out of COVID, when we’re all not very used to being in large groups.
We are also thinking about well-being: what do you need mentally? What do you need physically? What to pack? Thinking about having the right equipment. We will have online meetings with the women to highlight some of these considerations so that they can prepare themselves as well. And that trust and belonging: it’s really important to build that as we go.
We also need to be very cognisant of how we show up as leaders in those moments, what our preferences are, what potentially, are our trigger points, how we work with others.
So understanding very carefully what other faculty styles are, what their preferences are, so that we can support each other, but also challenge each other in a really safe way as well, to notice when we might be getting tired or fatigued, when we might need to do something to regain energy, to step in when others need help, and be able to call on others for help when we need to, at times is critically important as well. They’re some of the strategies that we’ll be using on the ship.
We’ll also be very certain to make sure that everyone has enough rest.
It’s daylight down there all the time and it does a lot to your circadian rhythms.
We need to be very mindful of people’s health and wellbeing, and mental wellbeing, whilst we are on the ship.
Photo: Homeward Bound 1 participants discussing the difference between leadership and management. Credit: supplied
What activities or curriculum will the participants be engaging with on the ship and in Antarctica?
For the activities that we’ve designed, they’ll range from the landings that the women will do on a range of different parts of Antarctica and surrounding islands. They’ll get on the Zodiac boats, with some of the support crew from The Ushuaia and they’ll do landings in amazing penguin colonies which, at that time of year, are almost starting to build nests and lay eggs.
Millions and millions of penguins, building their nests and just observing and watching those curious behaviours: the males steal rocks from each other to build their nests, it’s hilarious to watch.
We are also hoping to visit some of the scientific bases of different nations. That’s always a highlight as women in STEMM to go and look at some of the actual science that’s been done on the Antarctic Peninsula.
And then there’ll be activities on the ship when we can’t land: whenever the ice gets in the way, or the weather’s too bad, we’ll have leadership programming on the ship, which can range from the strategies that the women have been working on, thinking about their visibility, or their wellbeing.
But for this group of women, because they’ve been working together so much, a big focus will be on collaboration and impact and thinking about the broader Homeward Bound strategy.
And then, of course, there are all the activities that the women will bring themselves: from yoga sessions in the morning, to art and craft, to a fun night where everyone brings something to dress up in and we’ll have a party.
There’s also lots of opportunity for people just to take time out and enjoy the incredible scenery, spend some time alone, and engage in reflective practice.
As a leadership program, it is particularly important to take time to consider what the backdrop of Antarctica means in relation to women in STEMM leading in the world and in contributing to decision making, so that our planet benefits.
Photo: Homeward Bound at Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica in 2016. Credit: Supplied
As a member of faculty, how will you be assessing participants’ progress in learning the content and skills that you impart to them? Are there key milestones that you expect each participant to reach?
Homeward Bound has a subcommittee called the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Working Group, which looks at actually what impact has happened as a result of the program for women in terms of individual milestones.
For women, it is a really hard one (to measure), because leadership development is longitudinal change.
Behaviour and mindset changes happen over time at different rates and paces for women, depending on their specific objectives or goals that they have, so it’s quite hard to measure. Anecdotally via storytelling is a great way to be able to (demonstrate the change) and Homeward Bound captures so many of those stories.
What are the main challenges that you anticipate during the voyage and in Antarctica itself?
There was a full evaluation done after the first Homeward Bound program and more than 60 changes were made. A lot of that was due to some of the mental health challenges that women faced, and in bringing 80 humans together, there’s bound to be a number of diverse experiences for women. So we don’t assume anything. What we do assume is that we need all of the support that we can provide.
One of the faculty that we have on board is a qualified psychiatrist. That’s been a faculty position ever since Homeward Bound 1. One of the ways that we ensure mental health safety for women in Antarctica is through the application process. So the women are taken care of from the very first moment that they apply to come into Homeward Bound. We obviously don’t want to place women in an unsafe situation if they’re already in an unsafe place.
Some of the challenges we might expect for women as they get together on a ship with 80 other women in a remote location are things ranging from seasickness, which can be very bad, particularly across the Drake Crossing, to home sickness.
For some women, it’s the first time that they look left their families for that long period.
I know that my first time down in Antarctica was the longest time I’ve ever separated from my family and it will be again when we go in November. So we’ll support the women beforehand and during, for when that emerges.
And then of course, being in an enclosed space for long periods of time with lots of other people can be quite challenging, particularly when you’ve got a certain number of women who might classify themselves as introverts. I’m one of those: I have to note when I need to take that time out to be able to regain energy and have time for that reflection.
Most of the faculty are qualified and accredited coaches, so we are experienced in working with women. One of our leadership experts on the faculty is a qualified trauma psychoanalyst, and that’s in addition to the wellbeing psychologists.
There is a number of people who are highly experienced and qualified to help women to deal with the nature of the challenges that they might face.
Photo: Homeward Bound 3 discussing different leadership styles. Credit: supplied
Do you expect there’ll be some challenging situations where the participants’ new leadership skills will come in handy?
Absolutely. One of the beautiful things about this particular Homeward Bound cohort is that the majority has already spent a long time together and they are at a stage in their leadership development where they already applying what they have learnt. As faculty, as facilitators, as holder of space for those women, we are really there just to guide them. They are already putting into practice some of the impact of the program and this will certainly allow for more of that.
A key part of the design of this program for this cohort, is to allow for what we call ‘emergence’. We don’t know what will emerge, we’re allowing for the women to design that themselves whilst we’re down there, based on what comes up for them, all framed within the broader Homeward Bound strategy: leadership and women in STEMM.
They have the skills, the capabilities, the tool sets, and the mindsets to be able to run process, run conversations, deliver content, whatever it is that they want to do on their own, and we’ll be there just to hold space and guide them through that if they need it.
Antarctica is one of the most vulnerable environments hit by climate change. What attitudes and behaviours in relation to sustainability will this voyage inspire in participants?
It’s hard to know because your experience in Antarctica is very subjective.
It’s a very personal experience being in Antarctica, it touches you in ways that you can’t articulate. And even as I’m saying that I’m choking up, it’s awe inspiring. And I think the reason why I’m choking up is because it is so fragile.
And with the recent report from the IPCC, it really just goes to show how fragile it is, particularly with pandemics and the bird flu and species loss, habitat loss.
It will motivate us in ways that we can’t fathom without going, and I think that’s why we still justify the trip to Antarctica. It’s obviously fully carbon offset and we do everything in relation to that.
The benefit of going and having that sense of urgency and motivating women to really amplify their leadership in the space of STEMM to help influence, advocate, even be activists in some instances around some of the science pertaining to climate change is truly important.
I think Antarctica as a backdrop, really, there’s nothing else that can send that message. It’s truly awe inspiring in both a majestic, beautiful way because of what Mother Nature has created down there, but also in a truly terrifying way, in terms of what’s at risk.
Photo: Kate at Palmer Station, Antartica during Homeward Bound 1. Credit: Supplied
Exposure will definitely be the learning curve for these women and expeditions have been dominated by men in the past. So having all of these women get to see what’s down there is definitely moving and powerful.
Yes, exactly. And when you look at the history of particularly women in science who’ve tried to get to Antarctica over the years, like women in STEMM and women everywhere in all sectors around the world, there have been many barriers in place: there still are.
There’s still a lot of work to do from a leadership lens to get women on an equal level playing field with the men. There’s nothing more symbolic than having 80 women in STEMM down there.
It’ll be the fifth time (Homeward Bound has voyaged to Antarctica). So it’s super important, and really, really worthwhile putting all of my volunteer hours into this as an initiative, that I fully and wholeheartedly believe in.
Photo: Paradise Bay, Antarctica. Credit: Mary-Anne Lea
What are the biggest takeaways that you hope participants will gain from the voyage and the guidance of the faculty?
They’ll have individual takeaways, ranging from their experience in Antarctica, to the experience of being in that remote, beautiful location on a ship with 80 other women. What we know from past expeditions is that it’s the opportunity to be together to share stories, to understand that we’re not alone in our experience of being a woman in STEMM. That some of the challenges that we face are actually faced by others.
And as the Homeward Bound motto says ‘We are Stronger Together’, which is so true. This sense that we’re not isolated, and that we’re working together for something bigger, better, beyond our individual capacities.
It’s also the network that they join and become a part of as they step off that ship at the end in Ushuaia, where they join the what’s called The Convergence: the alumnae network of Homeward Bound. The Convergence is a physical place in the Southern Ocean, where the cold waters of the South meet the warm waters of the North. It looks like a misty wall…you can see it coming. We thought it was highly symbolic of what happens to the women of Homeward Bound. Like a rite of passage, you move through this physical location, and you leave that past experience behind, slightly transformed and into something new, which is now this amazing network of women called The Convergence, who are connected all over the world.
What we see happening now is that the women are collaborating on projects, science, friendships, social gatherings, leadership opportunities, public speaking, conferences, to two high level influencing and advocating at the United Nations. I think that’s the main goal of Homeward Bound: to leverage and scale this up so that women in STEMM are connecting all over the planet. And it’s working. That’s what we’re seeing. It’s fantastic.