Amanda Ketelaars, Chief Process Officer, Mitchell & Whale
“My plan wasn’t insurance,” confesses Amanda Ketelaars, chief process officer (CPO) at Mitchell & Whale since November 2021. Yet it has ended up being her first and final stop.
Ketelaars was taking a year off after school when a friend suggested she give insurance a try. About eight months in, she knew she was going to stay. She had found herself in a unique position. Hired by a brokerage introducing new software, she was asked to oversee its implementation.
“My passion for innovation and technology was awakened,” she says. “I realized people were spending money on software but weren’t using it. I wanted to help them understand how the technology could benefit them.”
To do that, Ketelaars shifted about five years later from brokerage to vendor. Moving from support analyst to trainer to consultant, she was able to help other brokers improve efficiencies by using software to its full potential.
“Back then, if you were to ask if I was heading into leadership, I don’t know if I would have said yes, but I started the see the value passion and innovation would have in a leadership role.”
Perseverance played a big part in her success. She pushed to stay on the tech side of the business, consistently looking for opportunities that would allow her to do so. One of her biggest hurdles was finding ways to network with key executives who could help her achieve her goals.
“As much as it’s changing, the old boys’ club still exists. Even today, a lot of women run into the challenge of not being invited to social events. The boardroom offers a formal way of getting to know people, but there’s a rapport and a relationship that gets built when you connect with people outside of work.”
Ketelaars overcame that hurdle in part thanks to her volunteer work, initially with ORBiT, a since-disbanded group of brokers advocating for the Canadian industry to come together to make technology work. That led her to IBAO, some work with IBAC, and a career shift in 2014 to insurance operations program manager at CSIO. Mitchell & Whale approached her a year later and she joined them as vice president of operations.
Regarding her opportunities, she had been lucky, she says, to have built a network of supportive and strong women, as well as men who supported women and understood some of the barriers.
“You need to have the right people in your corner,” she explains. “I’ve come across men in my career who don’t realize their bias. There are still men in leadership roles whose comfort or tradition is to work with and reach out to men and give opportunities out where they traditionally have.”
Key stakeholders, she says, need to uncover these biases and build cultures that create more leadership openings for women who can bring new perspectives, new experiences, and new opportunities to the table. She also says women should not be afraid to ask for what they need.
“I got a little vulnerable with leadership at the companies I was working for,” she says. “I told them I needed their help to get where I wanted to go. I’m not sure we do that enough as women. You have to be bold.”