An Antarctic Journey with 80 Women Leaders

Christmas last year, I left a cozy Iceland and arrived in sunny Argentina to meet up with 80 women as part of a transformational leadership program for professionals in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine). We realized that the world that we are living in today needs a better type of leadership. Leaders with integrity, emotional intelligence and compassion for this vibrant planet that needs us so desperately. And we were going to learn how to do this by spending three weeks on a ship together in Antarctica, with almost no contact with the outside world.

Homeward Bound is a transformational leadership initiative in which 80-100 women in STEMM are chosen every year from around the world to partake in 12 months of virtual leadership training, culminating in an intensive three week program in Antarctica. I was lucky enough to be chosen for the third cohort along with Hafdís Hanna Ægisdóttir (Director of the United Nations University Land Restoration Training Programme). We were the first women living in Iceland to be represented in this groundbreaking leadership project.

We departed for Antarctica from Ushuaia, the most southern tip of Argentina. Every morning at 06:30 we were woken up by an announcement from our friendly expedition leader for breakfast, followed by 4 hours of intensive leadership training. This included personal strategy mapping, visibility training and brainstorming sessions. While we strengthened our own leadership capabilities, we also started collaborating on projects that would improve gender equality and environmental protection in our world. We got to know each other really well and developed an atmosphere of deep respect and trust. In the afternoon we would hop on board the Zodiac boats and either quietly weave through the icebergs and stare at the surrounding glaciers in awe, or disembark on the surrounding small islands and white continent itself. We met a variety of penguins: Adelie penguins, Chinstrap penguins and Gentoo penguins (who are always so “hysterical” as our experienced guide jokingly told us).

Me sporting my headband printed with Icelandic Northern Lights (sponsored by Puzzled by Iceland). Proudly bringing the North Pole to the South Pole.” Image credit: Daisy Hessenberger 2019

Every beautiful and awe-inspiring experience I had in Antarctica was also tinged by sadness. Temperatures in Antarctica are predicted to rise 3° C over this century. I felt real fear that I would be one of the few who will remember this pristine, white continent as it is today. In the evenings we would have talks from Christiana Figueres, the woman who led the UN negotiations for the Paris Agreement on climate action. She taught us that leading with emotional intelligence, integrity and kindness was powerful and successful in way that benefited everyone. She taught us to be stubbornly optimistic about solving issues like climate change, because that optimism is what will inspire people to follow our lead.

Chinstrap penguins: you can see where they get the name

These words from Brené Brown resonated with me: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

I left Antarctica knowing that nothing is more important than protecting our living world. I am more certain about my values and the aspirations that drive my decisions. I learned how to clearly communicate my goals, unite people and be more strategic in project planning. I learned that being constructive and bringing out the best in the people around me is an amazingly powerful skill to have. I also now know that I can choose courage over comfort, because I have 80 new sisters who have my back.

Women leaders also need to be excellent team players. Nothing says collaboration like patiently organizing ourselves into a complex, heart-shaped formation.

My whole life I wished for better leaders until I realised that it was a call for me to step up and become that leader. I challenge you to do the same.

Matís financially supported me on this journey and is now the first company in Iceland to have two women participate in Homeward Bound. My colleague, Ali Leeper, was recently accepted to be a part of the next cohort and will be travelling to Antarctica this year in November 2019. She is the only woman representing Iceland this year. Applications have just opened for the 2020 cohort and we encourage more women from Iceland to apply ( Please feel free to contact me with any questions.