Community//

“Give yourself credit for something every day”, With Penny Bauder & Thorbjorg Vigfusdóttir

Go for walks and tell yourself you are doing great. Try to give yourself credit for something every day. No one else will because they are all busy, so you have to do it for yourself. Silly as it may sound, it really is important because you’re doing great! And don’t forget, if you are […]

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Go for walks and tell yourself you are doing great. Try to give yourself credit for something every day. No one else will because they are all busy, so you have to do it for yourself. Silly as it may sound, it really is important because you’re doing great! And don’t forget, if you are tired, go and rest. Sleep really does do wonders and shouldn’t be forgone.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thorbjorg Vigfusdóttir.

Thorbjorg is the CEO and founder of Iceland-born Kara Connect (www.karaconnect.com), the only dedicated online consultation platform enabling health, welfare, and educational practitioners to securely connect with their clients and run their practice seamlessly via a web browser.. A trained educational psychologist, Thorbjorg worked as a political advisor to Iceland’s Minister of Education before becoming an elected city councilor in Reykjavík City for twelve years.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It was during my time working in government, where I witnessed first-hand the geographical challenges, governmental budgets and bureaucracy that negatively impacted many people’s access to therapy and support, that I first saw the need for a solution like Kara Connect which could scale access to support for all.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

That would have to be when we were able to help a busy mother of 3 living on a boat to deliver therapy to autistic children in the west of Iceland by onboarding her onto Kara Connect. When that happened I realized this digital age was actually not only going to influence the way we work but also help women to work.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh, there have been so many! A mistake which, in hindsight, was rather funny came when I was explaining the amazing technology that we were offering to a room filled with psychologists. Having spent all that time on the back-end, trying to ensure it was the best that it could be and served actual functions that would be useful to real people, passion understandably took over me. I ended up talking non-stop about the platform and all it’s features for what must have been the longest time, because when I finally looked up it was clear that somewhere along the way, unknown to me, that I had lost them completely. My reaction was to just laugh and make fun of myself, and luckily we all laughed, but since that meeting I have been conscious to pause for breath, look up, and listen far more.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The team’s dedication to the cause is what wakes us up in the morning. This became even more evident at the beginning of the pandemic where we needed to onboard hundreds of professionals onto the platform. We are a small team, but everyone was more than willing to work around the clock, driven by the knowledge that we were helping. Every single team member at Kara Connect shares that drive, when someone needs support, in the team or from our user base, they are there. I believe this matters, and is what makes us stand out and is valued by our users.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we are adding a feature to the platform that will enable the professionals to evaluate both their business and therapy metrics. I think this information is valuable for them to not only increase what gives them good returns, but also to better evaluate how clients receive each session so that they can adjust them accordingly. This information will be made available, privately and securely, for each therapist. We believe that helping professionals in this way will both increase their enjoyment of working with clients and optimize their therapy programs giving more people the opportunity to access help. On top of this, 75% of our professional users in the mental and behavioural health space are women, and given the extremely high burn-out rate associated with this profession, they are too valuable to not invest in.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Of course there is no denying that less women go into STEM but rather than telling them that they themselves need to do, and learn more, let’s instead focus on actually getting them in there. Let’s boost their confidence and share stories of other women in technology. Not just the ones at the top, but all of them. I think it is also useful to talk about the ways in which women think differently in terms of tech. I have heard from female entrepreneurs that investors (almost all men) ask them about specifics: ‘what does the product do?’, ‘what is the market size?’, all of which are natural questions, but that have come about following decades of men talking. Women tend to build in a higher purpose to their business model, which can often make the idea bigger. For example, at Kara Connect. While on the ground we are helping individual practitioners move their services online, the bigger picture here is the simultaneous scaling of access to support for all. We need to help female founders articulate their ideas so that the steps are clearer for the investors.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The constant reminder from the outside world that we are not good enough and in order to address this we need to covertly support each other. While working as a politician in Iceland, I was a part of a women’s group spanning all of the political parties. Together, we were united in the fight to support our colleagues that were being subjected to bullying, supporting women’s issues in government, and sending out messages of support to women that were going through tough times in the media — often fighting age old schools of thought and hierarchies. In my mind, this is something which should exist across all fields.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth of my generation is that women are not as strong at math as men — one of my teachers at school even told us that this was the case! These ideas live for a long time, whether conscious or not, and, for many individuals, can fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy thus need to be eradicated.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Trust your gut: When you have gathered sufficient data pertaining to your idea, and you have asked and addressed all the relevant questions to the best of your ability, it is then time to turn to your feelings and to trust them!
  2. Network: Meeting people outside of your circle can be a challenge, but should be high on your to do list. The key to running a successful company is to build a team with different knowledge and experience. Finding the right people means you have to enter other networks and ask around for good people within those networks. Though you may feel well connected, if you were to draw a physical representation of your network, you may well be surprised by how localized it is.
  3. Use the phone: There are so many people that have done what you are doing before you. WHile, of course, leadership is different for everyone there is no harm in reaching out to those who have gone before you who are often more than happy to share what they have done in similar situations, or advise on what to do in yours. It usually takes 15 minutes of their time and picking up the phone and learning from others can save countless hours of your time.
  4. Celebrate: It is so important to celebrate even the smallest and most insignificant victories with your team, not just the big ones. It truly is the little steps that count along the way and these shouldn;t be overlooked.
  5. Data: Start collecting data about your business as soon as you can, this will be incredibly useful in the long-term. The same applies to data as to your product, you should be ashamed of your first edition and should constantly be striving for better.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Go for walks and tell yourself you are doing great. Try to give yourself credit for something every day. No one else will because they are all busy, so you have to do it for yourself. Silly as it may sound, it really is important because you’re doing great! And don’t forget, if you are tired, go and rest. Sleep really does do wonders and shouldn’t be forgone.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I am learning by doing and trust is key. My best advice is to manage with information and transparency. When your team sees you are not hiding your worries or your projections they tend to provide the right support that is needed for the company at that time. Try to talk and write as much as you can about what you are doing and where you see the business going.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. He is the one who has told me all this time that I am doing great. But he doesn’t only praise me, he is also happy to tell me the truth about what he thinks is going badly. He has taught me to take risks. The first push was encouraging me to rent the office that we have occupied now for 5 years. I was incredibly reluctant at first, but it has really helped me set the stage for my business so that I feel more empowered to turn my ideas into action.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Kara Connect was built around the need to provide mental health support for children. We offer the platform to NGOs and charities that work with children for a very low price initially and believe that together with excellent volunteers and good technology we can go a long way to help troubled children.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a movement for ‘the drizzle of praise’. I would build a network of leaders that could be considered as role models within tech companies. They would then be able to oversee a digital feed of small successes — or tough situations — from younger women taking the same steps they took. Each leader would then be able to send a ‘drizzle’ of praise, or support, their way giving them instant confidence and applause. This will also help to enhance networks and establish connections.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

COURAGE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF FEAR, BUT RATHER THE JUDGEMENT THAT SOMETHING ELSE IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN FEAR.

This quote is relevant in my life when I get stressed or have too many things to worry about. I try to overcome this by writing a checklist of what I am worrying about, breaking down the larger element into bits that are manageable. This also helps me to gain perspective as I often come to the conclusion that these little things usually involve us helping individual people and professionals which is far more important than my personal fears of failure.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love a breakfast with Barack Obama to talk about youth and education and a perhaps a lunch with Angela Ahrendts to talk about the role of design in the digital future.

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