The Ushuaia has now reached the Antarctic Peninsula, carrying the 78 women in STEMM who form the second Homeward Bound cohort. We’re bringing you the stories of more than 20 of those women, plus members of the leadership team, in their words and pictures: our #TeamHB2018 correspondents. You’ll hear from them about how the past 12 months of working together has influenced them. You’ll get a visceral sense of life on the ship as we post stories crafted from some of the most remote and fragile parts of the planet, by some of the most talented women scientists on the planet. And you’ll hear what happens for them when they return.

Today’s #HBCorrespondent is Marshall Cowley, leadership team member and the only man in #TeamHB2018.

It’s seven days into the voyage and I have my work cut out now; I’m a member of the leadership team – indeed the only man in a team of nine. My role is to coordinate the program on board the ship, in collaboration with the eight other leadership team members. The work actually began in earnest in Ushuaia – before departure, when we worked with the women of Homeward Bound to answer the same question I posed for myself: why am I going to Antarctica?

Part of the power of this program is that we, as the leadership team, continue to learn and delve. For after posing this question to the women of 2018 I had a deep moment of insight into my own ignorance and sense of entitlement.

In one particular session explored the idea that purpose is a journey of discovery; that people can and will be at different stages of exploring various versions of personal purpose.  Yet it was evident that certain ideas resonated throughout the room between TeamHB2018; there was a clear sense of collective purpose. A heartfelt care and concern for the state of our planet. A belief in the role women’s voices can play in addressing the problems we face as a species and a passion for bringing the facts that science generates to the table in ways that we can all understand.

In the past, when reflecting about my involvement in Homeward Bound, I’ve focused primarily on the impact the program is having on the women of each cohort and through them, on leadership in STEMM and ultimately the planet. Men and women are different and at the leadership table, most of the voices are those of men. As we seek to address the multiple existential crises facing humanity, I believe we ignore the voices of women at our own peril.

After this session, though, I thought a lot about my own place in this amazing, audacious undertaking, this male among a coterie of such inspiring women. And this this is what happened for me. Imagine a fish, spending its life suspended in a bountiful liquid medium. When asked what it’s like to live under water, it would simply reply, “Water? What’s water?”

This was me. I finally popped my head up above the surface and breathed in the realisation that not everyone on the planet (in fact around half) experience what I experience, as a male. I’m not talking about understanding it intellectually but viscerally knowing it.

After that purpose session in Ushuaia, I listened to an episode in the first series of the This Is Our Time podcast, by our podcaster-in-residence Samantha Hodder (who’s on board with us now recording the second series). That series was inspired by our first voyage, in 2016, and told the stories of six women on board. In the particular episode I was listening to, Samantha interviews Lewis Pugh, long-distance swimmer and Antarctic oceans advocate, about an incident that occurred when he spontaneously visited the ship to address the women; the ship he was on just happened to be close by, and he was very keen to meet the women of TeamHB2016.  In that interview, Pugh relayed his awakening to male privilege, which happened after one voyager, Monica Araya, asked him an apparently simple question. If you want to know the details, listen in to Episode Seven.

My own blinding flash occurred as I listened to the interview in Ushuaia just two weeks ago. I was there in 2016, bobbing about in the Southern Ocean, surrounded by icebergs hundreds of feet high, when Pugh visited. I was in that room of full of woman when, in the answer to that single question it became apparent to the women in the room that as a man, Pugh’s experience was fundamentally different from their own. In listening to that podcast over a year later, hearing Pugh describe his own awakening in the weeks and months that followed, I realised that I too hadn’t got it; not until that moment in Ushuaia, when I heard the experience relayed back. Even though I had spent the day working with 78 women on their purpose; their vision for the world, I didn’t get that I had still been seeing the world through the lens of male privilege. I didn’t get that like all males, I don’t know what I don’t know.

But I’m bound and determined to learn. That’s my answer for why I’ve come to Antarctica.

Already I’m seeing incredible willingness from TeamHB2018 to take on board new ideas, ways of thinking and behaving together. Importantly, so am I, now that I can see, ironically amidst all this water in the Southern Ocean, that I’ve been swimming in the water of male privilege my whole life. The privilege now is to understand fully the experience and power of women in our world.

Who knows what will be possible for these women – and for me, as a solitary man – upon our return on March 15.

Marshall Cowley is a member of the Homeward Bound Leadership Team. As a senior consultant at Dattner Grant, he is highly-experienced leadership expert, facilitator and coach, and was on the first voyage in 2016. He has devoted thousands of unpaid hours to developing the HB program and supports its strategic development and execution. He is also a devoted father of six.