Breaking Ice: A Black Woman in the Polar Expedition World
Guest Blogger: Lana Wall, Sr. Director Sales & Business Development
Picture this, circa 2006: I am a 24-year-old South African woman of color, eager and driven, entering an interview for a company specializing in expeditions to the icy polar regions. It almost feels like the setup for a comedic movie. I step into the office of John McKeon, the VP of Sales for a company that dominated polar expeditions to the Arctic, North Pole, and Antarctica at that time.
Initially, I had my doubts. This was a world that seemed foreign to me. As a full-time college student who had chosen a degree based on others’ expectations (I wanted to be a Teacher), what was I doing interviewing for a position in a field of snow and ice? Though I bring diversity to the table as a woman of color from sunny South Africa, I had no prior knowledge of anything polar-related. Nevertheless, I decided to try it – what could go wrong?
As it turned out, this chance encounter would shape the course of my life for the next 18 years (and counting). I found an unexpected mentor in the icy wilderness, and my journey as a black woman in the polar expedition realm dominated by white males began. Join me on my adventure, explorers!
Putting People First: A Lesson in Leadership
When John confided in me that he was starting his own polar expedition company, Polar Latitudes, I knew that he was the leader I wanted to follow. That is how I found myself joining the Polar Latitudes family 6 years ago.
John McKeon, Owner and CEO of Polar Latitudes is a true leader in the polar expedition world. His unwavering dedication to doing what is right and putting people first was evident in his decision to suspend operations when WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Even amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic, his commitment to our team’s well-being was awe-inspiring. Despite the immense external pressure he must have faced, he protected us from its brunt, ensuring that none of us lost our jobs despite operations being halted for almost two Antarctic seasons. His actions and character have empowered and inspired everyone at Polar Latitudes, making it an exceptional workplace. His leadership not only made the company an outstanding place to work, it also provided a beacon of hope and inspiration for the entire industry. Thanks to John, Polar Latitudes has become a company that any ambitious professional would dream to be a part of.
Antarctica Belongs to Everyone
The Antarctic Treaty along with the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) sets an authoritative precedent for international cooperation with the shared goal of preserving and safeguarding this unparalleled region for generations to come. Any attempt by a polar expedition operator to implement discriminatory policies would run counter to the very essence of what Antarctica represents- a sanctuary for all, where people can come together and work side by side, fostering growth and understanding.
As I reflect on my own experiences, I can attest to the power of inclusivity within this industry. The color of my skin has never hindered my journey, and I owe much of my growth and development to the guidance and support of three white men that I have had the privilege of working with. Their compassionate mentorship and belief in my potential have enabled me to flourish in an environment that celebrates diversity and values everyone, irrespective of their background. The Antarctica Treaty system stands as a testament to the power of working together, understanding that when we rise as one, we can achieve remarkable feats. Antarctica symbolizes a place where we are all equal, and every individual’s potential can flourish unimpeded.
I am so proud to be associated with Polar Latitudes, a company that embodies the true spirit of inclusivity in the world of immersive Antarctic expeditions. One of the cornerstones of Polar Latitudes’ success lies in our commitment to hiring the best people, regardless of their global location. Talent is recognized and has no geographical boundaries thus creating a strong and vibrant team.
Working at Polar Latitudes offers an unparalleled work/personal life balance that is truly invaluable. One of the main reasons why our office staff remains dedicated to PL and why potential employees are eager to join is the incredible flexibility we provide. Our team spans different time zones and locations, from the West to the East Coast of the US, Chile, Canada, and even China.
Let me introduce you to some of our remarkable team members who exemplify the freedom and flexibility we offer:
Meet Filomena from our Client Services team, a true explorer who is currently touring all 50 states in an RV with her husband, dog, and cat, all while maintaining her full-time job with us. Such an adventure would not have been possible if she were confined to a traditional office setting.
Then there’s Muhammad, also from Client Services. He hails from Pakistan but lives in Chile. He recently visited Canada for the first time and decided to extend his stay, exploring more of the country while seamlessly continuing his full-time work with Polar Latitudes.
And let’s not forget Conny, who has earned the prestigious title of being the ultimate full-time employee nomad. With a unique blend of passion for travel and dedication to her Business Development and Passenger Services Manager role onboard the Seaventure, she has lived in various countries, including Germany, Australia, Qatar, Canada and Bali. Conny’s lifestyle reflects the kind of extraordinary experiences that are made possible by working at Polar Latitudes.
Our company culture fosters an environment where work and life are not at odds with each other but complement and enhance one another. The freedom to roam and explore while still excelling in one’s career is the reason why our team members stick around, and why many others are eagerly seeking opportunities to be a part of our exceptional company.
Antarctica: Where Quiet Roars Loudly
Ah, Antarctica! The icy wonderland not only captured my heart but also launched the adventure of a lifetime. I didn’t face this epic journey alone, my brave partner-in-exploration was none other than my 8-year-old daughter, ready to take on the wild, frozen continent like a pro.
When I first stepped foot onto the Antarctic Continent, it was like being transported to a realm untouched by time. I didn’t realize that I had to brace myself for a complete sensory overload. WHAM AND BAM! Antarctica greeted my nostrils with the overwhelming scent of penguin poop. But hey, bring on the natural fragrances, right? It’s as if the penguins were saying, “Hey there peeps, welcome to the hood”
Antarctica is my 6th continent visited and by far the most impressive geographical masterpiece to captivate and humble me. The vast landscapes are painted in mesmerizing hues of blue and white. The gift of being immersed in the enormity of this frozen realm is a memory that will never leave me. After experiencing this delicate icy wilderness, I have found a newfound appreciation for the fragility of life and the importance of conservation.
As I plan my triumphant return to Antarctica, once again accompanied by my adventurous daughter, I can’t help but dream bigger. South Georgia and the Falkland Islands are calling us, and their King Penguin rookeries promise to be an emotional rollercoaster. Tim Post, our VP of Sales at Polar Latitudes, was brought close to tears on his recent voyage to this place, and I can only imagine the profound impact it will have on myself and my daughter.
This is not just my story; It’s a testament to the power of diversity, inclusivity, and leadership.
Breaking the ice as a black woman in an industry dominated by Caucasian men is a journey, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. As I continue to grow and thrive in this extraordinary industry, I hope my story inspires others to embrace their unique identities and pursue their passions without limitations.