March 12, 2021 by Jason Contant
Patti Kernaghan, President, CEO, Kernaghan Adjusters
Patti Kernaghan was working in the banking industry and felt pretty settled in her career before her career path veered towards the insurance industry.
“My father took me out for lunch, which was not common, and asked if I’d join him,” recalled Kernaghan, president and CEO of Vancouver-based Kernaghan Adjusters. “And so that’s how I got started in the industry. I ‘fell’ into the industry; no regrets whatsoever.”
When Kernaghan started out, she was juggling care-giving responsibilities while taking 12 insurance education courses. “I had a second child during the middle of my course-taking, and it’s not easy to have a family and to continue to take courses.
“When I started in ’88, there were very few women in claims,” she added. “I was dealing mostly with men, but it’s changed completely now.”
Kernaghan said it was not her intention to become president of the adjusting firm, nor was that the intention of her father, who started the business in 1953. “When I started, I remember being out on a claim in this older woman’s house in the basement in my rubber boots. And I said to myself, ‘Okay, what is wrong with this picture? I used to sit behind a big, old desk at the bank and do lending,’” she said. “But I got used to a different role and I enjoyed it. I worked my way up.”
Asked about potential barriers to women taking on leadership roles in the P&C industry, Kernaghan pointed to the detrimental attitude that women won’t be successful in a certain role. “Sometimes, women between 20 and 40 are given less chance because people think they could go off on maternity leave,” she said. “We must give people an opportunity. We have to give women an opportunity. It’s extremely important for the industry.”
Women have every reason to be confident in their abilities, and yet all too often women aren’t speaking up when they need to, Kernaghan said. “I think all women need to trust their own voice,” she said. “When you have something to say, you’ve got to be able to say it and stand up for what you believe in.
“You need to listen, too. Listen to what’s going on around you, so that you’re not only hearing your own voice.”
Canada’s P&C insurance industry is a relationship-based industry. And so it’s important for women to build a community of contacts – both male and female – throughout the country and at different levels, Kernaghan said.
Two other pieces of advice for women from Kernaghan: 1) reach out and mentor others in the industry, and 2) up your “adversity quotient.”
Sometimes, there’s not a lot of time to mentor others, Kernaghan conceded. But it’s vitally important, even when people are busy, to take time out to stop and have conversations with people, she said. Appreciating people can make a big difference. She used a recent example of writing personal anniversary letters to employees during the pandemic to let them know they are appreciated.
“You wouldn’t believe the email I got back from a woman that’s been with the company for 25 years,” Kernaghan said. “She so appreciated those few minutes I spent writing her a personal letter and she said that’s why she stayed at Kernaghan Adjusters.”
As for upping the adversity quotient, Kernaghan believes women need to beef up their resilience as adjusters.
“If you’re a female adjuster, you have to go out there and do exactly what the rest of the adjusters have to,” Kernaghan said. “It’s not an easy job. We’re all a lot more comfortable in our own skin than we were 30, 40, or 50 years ago and I think we all accept each other more. I think that’s been very important for women.”