Iceland was the first country from West Europe that recognized Lithuania as an independent country. That was done on 11th February 1991. Why?
I believe there were common historical experiences, two small nations who fought for their freedom and independence. Icelanders had compassion for Lithuanians and the harm they suffered under Soviet occupation. Last but not least, perhaps Iceland showed more courage than other West European countries because as a small nation, Iceland may not have been as afraid of Soviet aggression.
This year on January 1, 2018, Iceland fully enacted the world’s first equal pay law. How do you feel about that?
I welcome the equal pay law as I firmly believe women and men should earn equal pay for equal work and think this is the logical next step in Iceland’s leadership in closing the gender gap.
Little Iceland has a long history of gender equality. The general women’s strike in 1975 (90% of women participated), electing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as the first democratically elected female president in the world in 1980… Iceland has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as the global leader on reducing gender inequality. How do you feel about this and do you believe the women of Iceland are especially strong feminists?
I have always felt incredibly lucky to be born in Iceland. The women’s strike took place on my mother’s birthday, October 24th 1975 and when my mother and her sisters told me they took the day off to show that they matter, I decided that I too wanted to matter. Five years later, when Madam Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected President, I believe for a moment I considered being a President when I grew up (I was eleven years old at the time). Three years later Icelandic women founded the first all-female political party and changed the face of politics forever. I think the courage and solidarity of these women who came before me inspired me and my generation to make a difference. Role models matter.
Did this inspire you to continually work towards gender equality?
I am so grateful for these women who paved the way for me and my generation that I have always felt the responsibility to do what I can for the next generation(s)?
You co-founded a financial services/ investment company with the vision to incorporate feminine values into finance. Why did you think such values were necessary?
In 2007, at the height of Iceland’s financial bubble, we who co-founded Auður Capital felt like the financial sector was on an unsustainable path. We observed excessive risk-taking, big egos and overwhelming emphasis on financial profit with less regard for the impact on people or the planet. We wanted to incorporate feminine values into finance to bring better balance into a sector that we felt was overwhelmingly masculine in nature.
What are these values? Could you please explain ?
Our leading value was profit with principles, meaning that of course we wanted to make a financial profit for our clients and ourselves, but we cared how we made it and measured our ESG performance as well. We wanted to make a positive impact on the environment, on our society and in terms of governance, where one of our big issues was to see greater gender balance. We also valued risk awareness, which to us meant that we wanted to understand the risks we took and not invest in products unless we and our clients fully understood the risks involved. We valued emotional capital, i.e. people, purpose, passion and culture as much as we valued financial capital and prided ourselves of doing as good of an emotional due diligence as we did the financial due diligence. We practiced straight talking, which to us meant telling our clients the truth in plain and simple language. Last but not least, we believed in fierce independence, which for us meant that we never wanted to put ourselves into a position that would prevent us from providing unbiased advice to our clients. This value also served to remind us of our belief, that women’s way to freedom is financial independence.
Auður Capital was one of the few to survive the Icelandic economic crisis of 2008. Auður succeeded in preserving the funds of its clients when the Icelandic banks collapsed in October 2008. Is that right? What helped your company to do this?
Yes, Auður Capital survived the financial meltdown in Iceland without experiencing any losses to client’s funds. Timing and talented team certainly played a role, but we know our values did as well.
In 2008 Auður Capital and the renowned musician Björk Guðmundsdóttir established a private equity fund BJÖRK. What was the idea of this collaboration? Who was the initiator? Was this collaboration successful?
We worked with Björk to found a VC fund with a focus on sustainable ventures. Björk brought the idea to us as in the aftermath of the crisis many of us were trying to encourage people to respond to the collapse by creating new companies, ideally companies with a sustainable mission. But access to funding was a challenge in the aftermath of the financial crisis, so we were unable to close the fund, but we did what we could to support entrepreneurs and a greater focus on sustainability. Björk and I were also members of the Anthill, a team of nine people who organized the National Assembly held in Iceland a year after its financial collapse. In this meeting a half a percentage of the Icelandic nation gathered in our largest sporting hall to discuss the vision and values for Iceland after the crisis. It was an amazing experience and the wisdom of the crowd didn’t disappoint as Icelanders agreed on the following values: Honesty, Equality, Justice, Respect, Responsibility, Sustainability, Family and Love.
You ran for President in 2016. Polls were showing that you had 1% support some 45 days before election day, but you got the second highest share after that of the winner. What was the secret of your journey? Were you satisfied with the result?
I ran for President largely because I wanted to see those values chosen by the Icelandic people at the heart of Iceland’s journey into the future. I was an unlikely candidate as I had no prior political background and was not known to the general population in Iceland. I struggled with access to media for a long time, hence I struggled in the polls, but as soon as the Presidential debates started my poll numbers grew fast and yes, I went from 1% to nearly 30% of the vote in 45 days. Many people believe that I only needed one or two more weeks to win. I was pleased with the experience. It was a transformative journey that provided for much personal growth for me and my loved ones. I know I made an impact and brought the issues I care about to the forefront. What I value more than anything are all the messages and stories from young girls who found inspiration in my candidacy.
You joined the founding team of Reykjavik University where you founded and led the executive education and women entrepreneurship and empowerment programs. Do You think that women have to have more knowledge to step into the business field or do they more need to be empowered, encouraged?
I don’t believe there is a competence gap, because women are already graduating in greater number from universities (and have been doing so for a long time), and they are outperforming in terms of grades. But there is a confidence gap, i.e. women are more likely to suffer from self-doubt and even something called imposter syndrome (the feeling that you are not worthy to be in the boardroom, run for President, or be CEO). So I do believe it is important to inspire, empower and encourage women and girls to go for it, which is why I spend so much time doing just that. Research shows that men typically overestimate their ability by 30%, and as someone who has seen the downside of overconfidence (through Iceland’s economic collapse), I am not sure if it is enough to encourage women, I also think we need to teach all of our people the value of humility, which I consider the cornerstone of good leadership.
In your 2016 TED talk, where you talk about the Presidential Election, you mentioned intuition. You said: “You can cheat on Your intuition but intuition never cheats You”. If You act intuitively could it help in some way in business or politics?
Absolutely, our intuition is essentially our GPS system in life, we just need to learn to listen to it, and trust it. Our intuition helps us to know right from wrong and whether we are on the right path in life. It takes time to develop our ability to tune into your intuition, but I encourage anyone interested in leading and living a good life to start practicing as your intuition will always tell you the truth. I find that people who have developed their intuitive insights make better leaders. We can only become the best version of ourselves by being sincerely who we are and our intuition is key to getting there.
Please tell more about Yours 4G campaign during election. What were these 4 success pillars?
I called my campaign a 4G campaign both because with less finances than other candidates we needed to creatively use online media but also because each of the four principles I chose starts with a G (in Icelandic). The first one was Gagn, which means to be of service or good use. I ran to be of service, my candidacy was about contributing to the greater good, not about my own (or someone else’s ego). The second one was Joy, I decided to enjoy the journey, it was an amazing opportunity even if I knew it would be difficult. Joy is the best antidote with fear, so I guess I decided to be fearless. The third was Gagnsæi, which means transparency. I was well aware of the lack of trust in our society so I wanted voters to be able to ask any question of me and get clear and transparent answers. I posted all questions and answers on my website and on social media and took questions in live Facebook sessions every week. The last principle was Girl Power, I didn’t want to hide the fact that I believe in the power of women in leadership and I wanted to run the campaign accordingly. My objective was to be a good role model for everyone and show how women’s leadership makes a positive difference.
You won a big support from young people. Is that right? What do you think were the key issues for young people during this election? Please tell me more about it.
There was a parallel election in one district, where 16-18 year olds were allowed to vote (although their votes did not count). In that election I came out as the winner with 38% of the vote, the runner up had 17%. In terms of actual votes, I earned the greatest support in the age group 18-29, which made me happy because they are the future and I ran because I feel it is our responsibility to work at creating a sustainable future for them. I believe one reason I reached them is the fact that I used social media, including Snap Chat and I prioritized engagements with young people as I loved talking with them and found that my values and theirs were highly aligned. I emphasized equality, entrepreneurship, education and sustainability, these are the issues the young generations truly care about.
At the TED conference in 2016 you shared how many people encouraged your daughter to run in the future?
I tried to keep my teenage children out of the limelight, but on Election Day the TV interviewed them on several occasions. My son has typically been the confident one and my daughter a bit more shy, but this time it turned around and my daughter was suddenly so confident and poised as she told the reporters that she was proud of her mother and always expected her to run for President. For me, this was a personal highlight of the journey, which clearly did not harm her or her brother (which was a concern of mine before I decided to run). I later learned that on Twitter people were saying that if I didn’t win, at least they found a candidate for 2040. I don’t believe she will run for office, she wants to be a Physical Therapist and I always encourage my children to be and do what they want. But I believe my daughter’s confidence grew through this experience and I now observe her as a strong young woman (she’s 14) who is unafraid to be herself. That’s a big win for me. I guess you could say that I no longer worry about her not being the President of her own life, which is all I ask of her.
Please tell more about Your family: children, husband, your parents.
My father was an orphan at an early age, so he had to work hard to set up a life for himself and his family. He was initially a fisherman and then put himself through school to become a plumber. He ran his own business for most of his career and worked incredibly hard and raised me to be unafraid of hard work. My mother was one of ten sisters and brothers. She put herself through school to become a special needs educator and dedicated her life to caring for people who were at the time considered outcasts in society. I believe I got my hard work ethic from both my parents, but especially from my father, and while they both had a big heart, my father hid his pretty well, so I thank my mother for raising me with caring values as well. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and they are both pre-school teachers. My father passed away shortly after Iceland’s economic collapse, he was diagnosed with cancer and died a week later. That was a big wake-up call for me because my father worked so incredibly hard in his life but didn’t always take care of himself and always said he was going to do the things he wanted once he retired. But he passed away before he really did and his passing made me commit to taking better care of myself and doing the things I want to do while I still have time to do them. I am grateful for every day I get, you can’t take any day for granted.
I first met my husband when I was the manager for the Men’s Soccer Team at Auburn University and he came to play for the team the year after I graduated. Eight years later we met again at a reunion and that was it. I have the best partner in life and he is a great father too. He worked in finance for a long time, but a few years after the financial crisis he decided to study to become a healthy chef, as he thinks health is the real wealth. He is thankfully the master of the food in our home. We have two teenagers, Tomas who is now 16 and Auður Ína who is now 14. He loves football and American football and she did gymnastics for a decade, but has recently taken up cross-fit. Our youngest family member is our three year old dog, who we love and adore.
What are the main values in your family?
We try to teach our children the right balance of valuing hard work and taking care of themselves and the world they live in. More than anything we try to teach our children to be themselves and to know that they deserve joy, love and happiness.
When you were a little girl, you were dreaming that when you will be grown-up, you will be…
When my sisters played with dolls I often played office, so I guess my interest in business came through at an early age. My childhood friends say they recall me writing an essay about becoming President when I was in elementary school, I can’t remember, but I believe them. I remember wanting to travel and I was only about 11 years old when I decided to be an exchange student and after I was I decided not to go to university in Iceland, but to study abroad, which I did.
What is Your leisure time?
I treasure my time with family and friends. We like to spend weekends at our cabin, where life is simple. We travel, go skiing and enjoy time outdoors with our dog. I read every day, swim as often as I can in Iceland’s geothermal pools and I meditate regularly.
If you would have more time you would spend it…
Inspiring young people to become the change they want to see in the world.