woman whose fundamental feminine values saw her financial services company Auður Capital through the Icelandic financial crash of 2008, Halla Tómasdóttir is certainly someone who fully appreciates the value of Girl Power. So much so, that it became one of the four pillars of the business woman’s campaign to become President of Iceland this year – leading her to rise from polling at only 1%, to a staggering second place in 45 days. However, despite narrowly losing out on the Presidency, Tómasdóttir, talking of the experience in a recent TED talk, views the result as immensely positive due to her strong belief in the importance of female role models. “What we see we can be,” she tells the audience. “So ‘screw’ fear and challenges, it matters that women run for office, be it the CEO office or the office of the President”.
Tómasdóttir’s own inspiration came in the form of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was not only the first woman to be democratically elected as a head of state in Iceland, but the world. She recalls the overwhelming feeling as a 12 year old seeing her step out on the balcony for the first time, and remarks an understandable pride at being part of a nation that is, to this day, ranked as one of the best places in the world to be a woman. However, despite this proud history, Tómasdóttir revealed that she too had her own reservations when it came to running for office. “Who am I to run for President?” she thought. However, although she had no prior political experience, Tómasdóttir made the decision to run anyway in a bid, not only to lead, but to prove that the world is “in need of more women leaders and more principles based leadership in general”. And no one can say she did not succeed.
"‘Screw’ fear and challenges, it matters that women run for office, be it the CEO office or the office of the President”
Even before running for office, Tómasdóttir was already making great strides for women in leadership. In an earlier TED talk in 2010 she spoke on the importance of applying feminine values to the financial world from her position as co-founder of Auður Capital. Perceiving the Icelandic economic situation to be unsustainable, even before the crash of 2008, the financial services company was started with two main purposes: to address the lack of gender diversity and balance in the economic sector and to apply the principles of risk awareness, straight talk, emotional capital, and profit with principles. For these four key elements, Tómasdóttir believes, is where women’s greatest strengths can be brought to the table. Women are more "risk-aware, not risk-averse”, she said in a 2009 interview with the BBC. “We need a balance between men and women to make healthier decisions."
This balance and healthy risk aware investment strategies proved immensely fruitful for her own company, and now that recovery is underway in Iceland, she believes that this successful model is something that should be taken into account. “It’s not about women being better than men,” she said in her 2010 TED talk “It is about women being different from men”. Instead of being dominated by one gender, a healthy balance, Tómasdóttir says, is the best way to bring both male and female strengths to the table. "Women tend to bring a lot” she says, “They think more long-term, they think about the team, and not only themselves. They think more about people, and they see other business opportunities than men."
“It’s not about women being better than men. It is about women being different from men”
It is clear that an approach of honesty and transparency is how Tómasdóttir tackles every challenge in her life, and so it is no surprise that this was exactly the tone of her political campaign. A refreshing change from the electoral vitriol that we have grown used to, Tómasdóttir ran a positive and respectful campaign and strove to “go high when others went low”, described aptly by The New Yorker as the “living emoji of sincerity”. As the business woman lacked the political and financial resources and backing of all her rivals, and subsequently struggled to get adequate media coverage, she went about creating her own. Hosting live Facebook Q&As with voters and mastering the Snapchat filter, she became the candidate of the Icelandic youth, polling proportionally higher in this age group than any other candidate.
Although Tómasdóttir did not win the presidency in the end, there is a sense of not just personal, but symbolic victory in all she has achieved, especially in light of today's US election results. Like the first female Icelandic head of state, she is a powerful role model for all women and girls, and her success in only points to even greater things to come. Things have to change for women, not only in business but in society in general, for as Tómasdóttir quotes Einstein in her TED talk; the definition of insanity is when people do the same things over and over again expecting different results.
Words by Scarlett White