Venezuelan scientist: It’s possible to be mother and leader at the same time

Members of the Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica enjoy the beauty of the White Continent's Paradise Bay on Jan. 15, 2019. EFE-EPA/ Claudia Kielkopf

Members of the Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica enjoy the beauty of the White Continent’s Paradise Bay on Jan. 15, 2019. EFE-EPA/ Claudia Kielkopf


Venezuelan geochemist Ines Melendez, who is six months pregnant but decided to participate in an Antarctic expedition by 80 female professionals and scientists, said Tuesday that motherhood is a challenge and not an impediment to her profession, adding that knowing she will soon be a mother inspired her to work on how to fight climate change.

Melendez, 33, who currently works in the hydrocarbons sector, spoke with EFE on the Homeward Bound expedition to the White Continent, an Australian program supported by Spain’s Acciona company that seeks to foster female leadership and the visibility of women in global matters like climate change.

Born in Venezuela, where she obtained a degree in geochemistry, Melendez then moved to Australia to complete her doctorate in applied chemistry, doing research on marine environments that were affected by ecological crises millions of years ago.

When asked about the petroleum industry’s links to the challenges of climate change, Melendez said that, speaking as a geoscientist, “We have to understand ... the changes that have occurred in the geological record to understand what is happening today. More than five worldwide extinctions have occurred and all were due to changes in environmental conditions.”

“It’s important to recognize that climate change is occurring nowadays and that it will have consequences for the species living on the planet,” she noted, adding that “the (petroleum) industry has evolved and is taking a leading role (in dealing with climate change) and I’m sure that they’re going to come to the discussion table and many changes will be made in the future.”

In discussing the role of women in the changes going on in the world, Melendez said that women are playing a “leading” role, “getting training in more technical areas, in professional areas but also in ... leadership,” and adding that women are making more “decisions and changes must continue so that women have greater decisionmaking power.”

When asked what it has been like to be pregnant on this expedition to Antarctica, Melendez said it’s been “a unique experience. At first, we considered all the risks and possibilities and whether it was safe to be here. (But) I took the opportunity to come on Homeward Bound and witness the beauty of Antarctica. Not just me, I came with my baby inside me and he’s having this experience with me.”

Regarding the fact that some Homeward Bound participants have said that being a mother is a challenge for also being a leader, she said that this is her first pregnancy and admitted that she was and is “scared” about “how it’s going to impact my professional career, how it’s going to change the expectations that I had as a leader in the industry.”

Nevertheless, she added that “I’m full of confidence and it fills me with inspiration (to hear) from the women who have told me it’s possible. There are thousands of opportunities that come up, and once we perform in the role of a mother we bring another experience, another kind of wisdom, which is beneficial, which really provides diversity and helps companies and other spaces to be more positive.”

When asked about what women must do to achieve or maintain that kind of leadership role, Melendez said: “I think that one of the most important things is to stay true to your values, keep your authenticity as a woman and remain clear about what the purpose of life is. By doing that, you’ll always have a clear objective and you’ll be able to achieve the changes that you set for yourself.”

The tour of Antarctica will last until Jan. 19.

Homeward Bound, with its backing by Spanish infrastructure and renewable energy firm Acciona, is a global initiative for women in the STEMM fields (i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) with an eye toward boosting female visibility as leaders on matters of global import.