On Monday 22nd October, Women in Defence UK welcomed Lance Sergeant Sophie Montagne, a member of the incredible Ice Maidens – the first all-female team to cross Antarctica coast-to-coast using muscle power alone.
The brainchild of two Army doctors, the Ice Maiden expedition saw six women battle temperatures of -56 degrees Celsius and winds of 60 miles an hour to complete the 1704km journey in 62 days.
Despite making the final 6 from over 250 women, Sophie described how she could never shift the feeling of Imposter Syndrome, “I never believed I had what it takes to cross Antarctica but thought I’d put in my application the wait for somebody to tell me the game was up”. But that moment never came, and in November 2017, Sophie, and the five other Ice Maidens found themselves on the Ross Ice Shelf facing the white wilderness of Antarctica.
The expedition was fraught with challenges and the team faced setbacks from the outset. Poor weather hampered their efforts to leave camp and it was more than two weeks before they crossed the start line. Already behind schedule, the team faced a further setback when one of their members was struck down with flu. Determined to finish as a whole team, the contents of her 80kg sledge were divided between the others until she was well enough to continue.
Commitment, Dedication and Selflessness
A large part of Sophie’s talk focused on key attributes of team work and human dynamics. Beyond being physically fit and able (and willing to put up with not showering for many weeks at a time!) it was vital that the team had 100% trust in each other. They needed to feel psychologically safe in order to succeed. The challenges that these women faced over those two gruelling months and how they dealt with them are great lessons for us to take away into our day-to-day, less extreme, work environments.
Getting to know your team
A thought provoking end to the discussion led Sophie to ask; how well do you know your team? Do we know what to say to our colleagues when they are feeling low?
Whilst many of us think we know what someone else wants to hear in particular situations, Sophie described the one night that made a huge difference to the team. With hundreds of miles still to travel and running behind schedule, action was clearly needed. Team leader, Major Nics Wetherill (Winner of the Women in Defence Inspirational Award 2018), asked them to speak openly about what they wanted to achieve from the expedition, and how they wanted to be treated when they were struggling. It wasn’t until these conversations that everyone understood each other, their drivers and behaviours, and how they could work effectively as a team.
In a truly inspiring evening, Sophie left us with one clear message; try something different and you never know what you might achieve.