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Celebrating our female Leaders with This Girl Can

Jun 21

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21 June 2017 14:50  RssIcon

British Exploring is proud to have been approved as a supporter of the This Girl Can campaign. So we asked our Creative Media Leader, Belinda Dixon, to consider how effective BE’s female leaders are as role models for women and girls.

Photo by Nigel Painter, Himalaya 2016 Leader

 It’s lunchtime on the Drang Drung glacier. We’re at about 4200m and it’s cold; a chill that seeps up from the ice as you perch on your rucksack. Members of British Exploring’s 2016 Himalaya expedition are refuelling on cheese and crackers. Well some are. But three leaders aren’t. While we replenish the calories burnt so quickly at altitude, they’ve worked on - setting up a system of ropes so that, one by one, the rest of us can try a spot of ice climbing.

It’s a moment that typifies British Exploring’s leaders – it’s the kind of thing they do. In fact that day and every day of that expedition BE’s medics, logisticians, science, adventure, media and trainee leaders delivered to their specialisms. They informed and inspired and kept everyone safe. They made us think and made us laugh. They helped us grow. They and our Young Explorers filtered water, worked stoves and carried ridiculously heavy loads.

So does it matter that it was female leaders as well as male leaders doing each of these things? I’d say it does. Because seeing someone just like you do these things, helps you see it could be you doing these things. Here’s an example: if you’re a young woman and you see a strongly-built, 6 foot 3 man leading a team up a hill, carrying a punishing pack you could tell yourself you can’t do that because he’s inherently bigger and stronger than you. But when you see a slight, shortish woman blazing that trail, carrying that load, you realise it could be you. You might need to work at it, but your personal potential is revealed. It cuts through the excuses; silences your inner naysayer. It inspires.


Photo by Teresa Feng, Himalaya 2016 Explorer

Because we should never underestimate the power of a positive role model. I know this because I’ve seen it. On expedition I’ve seen young women look at female leaders and think “Well, maybe I can do that too”. Seen them walk taller and walk further. Seen them think “I could?” and then discover that they can. Seen their pride at having climbed a crag, or plodded upwards at 5000m carrying a 70L pack. I’ve seen their curiosity sparked by high-altitude scientific field work. Seen their creativity take flight. Seen their organisational skills transformed. I’ve seen them want to emulate medics who have the guts to test their skills in harsh, remote environments. It’s incredibly powerful for all our Young Explorers – young women and young men – to have been led by both women and men in all these things.

British Exploring has female leadership at its UK HQ too, including CEO Honor Wilson-Fletcher - an inspirational leader with a fine line in killer quotes (“you meet a lot of remarkable people on expedition. But perhaps the most remarkable one is you”). And this summer I’m delighted to be part of BE’s five-week expedition to the Canadian Yukon with a team 12 female to 7 male leaders. On this trip women are in senior leadership roles, and those of adventure, science, medicine, logistics and media.


Photo by Nigel Painter, Himalaya 2016 Leader

Which is why I’m proud to join British Exploring in backing This Girl Can in its drive to “celebrate active women who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it”. The campaign promotes confidence in young women, aiming to overcome fear of judgement; to help them get active; to help them join in. It’s what our expeditions and leaders do so successfully, so powerfully and so simply - by showing all our youngsters just who and what they can be.

Belinda is an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion, a travel (Lonely Planet) and adventure writer, and a BBC Broadcaster. She also authors the Always Exploring adventure blog. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

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