Meet Andrea Kerswill
Assistant Vice President of Innovation at Farm Mutual Re:
We chat about all things corporate innovation, what energizes her both mentally and physically (hint: barre, tea, and music), and her heroes.
What do you love about your role at Farm Mutual Re and corporate innovation in general?
Two things come to mind — first, it's the people. I’m inspired by those who want to test, learn, fail fast, and try again. Those are the people who often show up with their best selves, and a big part of that is being open to testing and learning collaboratively. In Innovation, we focus on bringing a lot of different minds into a room to try to learn and grow together, and that focus often motivates people to listen, learn, and, ultimately, grow. Farm Mutual Re has a very collaborative culture, and we really care about our people. I believe the collaborative culture will be one of the elements that will truly enable our Innovation efforts (and, did I mention we’re hiring?)
Second, the work can sometimes feel like...magic. Bringing bright minds into one room — professionals from all areas of the organization — can be energizing to witness because it can really create a force of innovative thinking. I’ve seen this happen when people who truly understand the customer and their industry connect with people who have experience focusing on new and innovative ways to meet customer desires and needs. It sounds fairly simple, but it is one of the things I do love about innovation. When the team wins, we all win. That’s an easy thing to love.
What energizes you at work or in general?
What gives me the most energy is starting my day by expending energy. There's this whole idea in the exercise world that in order to gain energy first you must expend it. What I try to do is start my day with a short workout such as barre, yoga, or a bike ride. Then I follow that with tea...lots and lots of tea. Those are the things that energize me physically and keep me going throughout the day.
When I think about the things that energize me mentally, one of my favourite things to do is to connect my challenges or obstacles to something I love that will help keep me grounded. And to do this, I often channel my creative side through my love of words and art. I love words and the way they come together on a page or in a song. I often take a favourite quote or lyric from a song and write it on my whiteboard, changing it every few weeks. It’s energy for the mind, and it does it like nothing else can. The one I have right now is from Higher Love by Steve Winwood — “I could light the night up with my soul on fire. I could make the sunshine from pure desire. Let me feel that love come over me. Let me feel how strong it could be.” It grounds me, motivates me, and reminds me what I’m capable of.
Who helped you become the woman in tech you are today and who were some of your favourite mentors and leaders?
The first people that come to mind are my parents — definitely both my mom and dad. They gave me the support, the freedom, and the push to pay attention, focus, and speak up when necessary. They taught me from a very young age to be a voice for myself and for others, and to not be afraid to be the one to raise my hand in class and answer or ask questions. They also taught me not to be afraid of anyone else and to not compare myself to others. Instead, the focus was on competing with the version of your best self that you want to be every day.
I've also had some great mentors along the way; people who've had faith in me, even when I didn't quite believe in myself. Those mentors created space for me by helping to open doors, advocating for my spot in the room, and supporting me when I was frustrated or facing a tough challenge. My mentors really helped me carve a path for myself, and they still are.
I'm now focused on paying it forward. Other incredible women may also need a door to be opened. I’m often thinking how do I help elevate others and encourage them to try, maybe get frustrated sometimes, and then try again? I really want to be able to make the same investment in others that was made in me. I know that Farm Mutual Re has a great new mentorship program, and I look forward to being a part of that!
When you think about the start of your career vs. now, do you think there are more doors open for females? Have you seen an intentional change of any magnitude?
In my first job, I was actually hired by two exceptional women in investment banking. They coached and trained me and showed me the ropes from the ground up, which was pretty incredible. I still connect with them to this day. I was in my early 20’s and they opened a door for me that I otherwise may never have been able to open myself.
As I progressed in my career, I started to see a great shift in support for Women in Leadership. We saw things like the UN’s HeForShe movement begin and spread across the world. We saw more and more organizations establish commitments to gender equality, often creating their own unique programming that became a mainstay in their organizations. But, even with these movements and programs, we still needed women and men who were willing to advocate for this change and take action to bring it to life. And it happened; I was a witness to these very changes and was incredibly inspired by those that were willing and able to advocate for others.
That said, we’re by no means done. We have a long way to go, but I would say I'm definitely inspired and happy to see the change that has occurred in the last 10 years. I’m grateful to be a part of it, and even more grateful to get the chance to pay it forward.