Speak Out, Be Daring, Alumna Advises
Iceland native Katrin “Kata” Sverrisdottir ’91 understands that, when it comes to working in the high levels of government, she has had advantages, including hailing from a country ranked among the highest in the world for gender equality.

“We have come a long way in Iceland, be it for instance our legislation on parental leave or equal pay. This certainly makes it easier for women to achieve their goals,” Sverrisdottir says. “Our prime minister is a woman, five out of 11 ministers in Iceland’s government are women and the national commissioner of the Icelandic police is a woman.”

Her great-great-great-grandmother was the first woman in Reykjavík, the capital, to vote in a municipal election — in 1888. That was possible because she owned land.

Because Sverrisdottir grew up in Washington, D.C., as the daughter of Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s ambassador to the United States, she gained confidence and critical thinking from her education in American schools, including Bucknell, where she majored in international relations. At the University, she says she soaked up “this belief that you can do it if you want.”

Illustration by Margie Tillman Ayres
Illustration by Margie Tillman Ayres
While at Bucknell, the Icelandic citizen was named the 1990 Queen Azalea for the Norfolk, Va., International Azalea Festival.
Now she is the director of EEA cooperation at the Embassy of Iceland in Brussels, Belgium. EEA refers to the European Economic Area agreement, an economic partnership that connects European Union member states with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Sverrisdottir believes that women from all backgrounds can excel in government and politics if they have the will to do so.

“It’s very important for women to know what they want, to go for what they want, and be daring,” she says. “No one is going to do this for you except yourself. One has to be determined to go forth, speak for what you want. I think the daring part, and going for it, is extremely important.”