Jason Keck is joined by Tina Semotan, President at HNI Risk Services. Jason and Tina are two leaders in the insurance industry who are focused on DE&I within their given companies. Tina brings an interesting perspective to the conversation as a female executive in a male dominated industry.

You can also hear the interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcasting applications.

Learn more about Tina Semoan.

Ep 21: Tina Semotan, President of HNI Risk Services

Jason Keck: Coming up next is an amazing episode of the podcast with Tina Semotan. the president of HNI Risk Services. This is our first industry executive on the diversity equity and inclusion series of The Enlightened Agent. The conversation with Tina was incredible, the level of detail she gets into and the passion she has for supporting females, people of color and general diversity in industry is evident, you can feel it in the podcast. So I hope everybody enjoys the show, and is able to take away some of the same lessons that I did.

JK: Hi everybody, and welcome to this very special episode of ‘The Enlightened Agent’! The podcast that brings you to conversations from top insurance professionals and industry leaders. My name is Jason Keck, and I'm joined today by Tina Semotan, the President at HNI Risk Services. HNI works with high performing companies to help them address the hidden risks in their business and to avoid the insurance dependency trap. This is done by proactively de-risking their business so they help be less dependent on insurance. They also offer basic services of insurance and employee benefits, and they have offices in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis. So Tina, welcome to the show! I’m excited to have you. I know I've given a little bit about HNI, but I'd love it if you could share a little bit with the audience about yourself, so let them get to know you a bit. 

Tina Semotan: Absolutely! So I came back to HNI Risk Services about six months ago. I was with the organization about 11 years beforehand. So it's really nice, we jokingly say that I came home. I have always loved HNI. But, I had this little burning desire inside of me to go and try my hand in the private equity world for a while and so for 11 years, I switched industries. I went into energy efficiency to help grow a company called Franklin Energy.

It was a fun run, but I'm really glad to be back at HNI. It's an outstanding organization. 

JK: Amazing, welcome back! Welcome home. I've been to Burning Man nine times and that's what they always say when you come back they say, "welcome home". You haven't been in a long time, but it feels very familiar, it feels very comfortable. I'm glad that you feel that way, and I'm sure that your team feels that way as well. So today is, as I mentioned, a very special show. It's our first episode with an industry executive focused on diversity equity and inclusion. It's part of a series of episodes which will feature a diverse group of incredible insurance industry leaders to talk about DE&I in the insurance industry.

As a white male executive, who feels the weight of privilege now more than ever, this is a super important show for me. It's serious for me because last year after George Floyd was killed, everybody including me, took a step back to kind of say, 'hey what are we doing here' and 'how do we make this better'? How do we help avoid this in the future?. I used to feel like unless you were doing a lot and making a big impact, there was no point in doing anything. I somehow never managed to find the time outside of my day job and my family to do enough, to make a big difference. I think last year I realized that there were a lot of little things you can do to raise awareness, talk about diversity and to begin to kind of elevate the conversation just as a simple step. Proven the general collective mindshare around how do we make this better? We approached the anniversary of his death, it struck me that that effort kind of faded, at least here with us internally a little bit, and that we needed to do more.

That was the idea behind doing the series. Naturally I thought about reaching out to some of our clients, some of our prospects, some of our partners in the industry excited that you're able to join me on the show. With all of that, I think as a female executive in a white male dominated industry, my first question for you is what is that like? Tell us from the perspective of the president of HNI. What's it like to be a female executive in insurance?

TS: Yeah, I think I can answer this from a couple of different perspectives. I'm also not very veteran. It has always been a challenge that I've welcomed. I know that's not the case for a lot of females. It's sort of been a little bit of an ax to grind, so to speak. I've always looked at it as how can I sort of prove myself just from the talents and the efforts that I bring.

I make sure to try to lift that up wherever I can. With that I have been met with a lot of different diverse situations in leadership within the military, being the first female in the last organization that I was in, from being on the executive. From coming into the industry here and being president. So from those standpoints, I kind of look at it as this opportunity that I have to pave the way for others to make sure that I am creating opportunities where I can bring other females along or mentor other females. Or, just continue to bring my awareness wherever I can about the differences that still exist.

So I think you made the point earlier of, you know, we need to talk about this and you're bringing it back up a year later from the George Floyd situation.I think that's the biggest thing you can do when you get to a position of leadership. It is our job to make sure that we're continuing these situations and bringing awareness to them. Whether it's through inclusion or equity, pay fairness, diversity, we have to make sure that it's got a bullet point on the agenda anytime that we can. 

JK; I think that's part of elevating the conversation, right? You have to kind of have to force it in. 

It's not natural yet. We want to get to a point where it's just, it just is natural. I think that's always one of the awkward points, right? Because on one hand it’s easy to think, oh, well, you know, we're not racially biased or gender biased, but you know, a lot of times it's unconscious.  Therefore you're not proactive about it.

Then you're unconsciously being biased about it and not facilitating the conversation. Are there any examples you can share? Where you felt like there's been bias against, against you, or I guess women in the workplace that, you know, were not intentional, but maybe were real? Whether it was a male, male dominated workplace or the military military, it feels like a very male dominated workplace.

Can you think of any examples for somebody who's not a female? Is it the things that I don't think about a lot, but didn't even come to mind that kind of helped me. Think about what helped put me in your position somewhere where you felt awkward one time or you felt uncomfortable because the more that people like me to teach her about that, the more it'll come to life.

TS: I think there's several, I mean, I think you can look at various things. I've always had HR in my background. So you could look at the pay scales for instance, and until you actually lay those down on paper and compare them, I don't think people do think about it. I truly believe that most people see your points about being Intentional about it. What they're also is they're not intentional about being aware and therein lies the difference. If we would just spend a few minutes being intentional about being aware, we could probably break down a lot of those things. I think another thing that we saw a lot of times too, whether in the military and civilian too, it's just by the sheer number of events that you do, the opportunities where you have a chance to get together and just by sheer comfort of who you're used to talking to, you can be very exclusive to groups. Like ‘hey, let's go grab a beer after work’, or ‘let's go play nine holes’ just by some of those things. It caters more to a more male dominance approach to things a lot of the time. So I think there's instances that happened that are by no means intentional but happen.

JK: The golf thing, I get it. Let's go grab a beer, right? It's uh, that's a no. My wife doesn't drink beer for example. My point is, some of these norms are so ingrained in us that it’s an unconscious comment. You know, clearly it's a male after work thing versus a female after work then. Versus an inclusive after work thing. It's a perfect example of how very innocent and familiar activities can be exclusive, unconsciously.

So I might take notes as we go. Right. And part of this is I think it's going to be a good, good for me. And hopefully for our listeners to say, right. Yeah, let me go print out my payroll and put a male female next to everything. Just see what comes up. I mean, you know, ignoring levels, right. But like, yes, if you start to level, it it'll become more interesting, but what an important exercise to do and just not the hard to do, right. Go pull out your payroll or have somebody in HR do it and just take a look at it. And, um, I think that's a fascinating to do, and I'm gonna, I'm going to do it after the call. 

TS: And what are the other things Jason, that I've I've asked organizations to do from time to time? I hosted cafe talks on diversity and inclusion, and I've talked with a lot of different organizations about it. And one of the things that I've said is when you have meetings, you know, just take that brief second to look around. In the room as well. And do you have diverse people at the table or do you have an equal male female ratio? Just taking that extra time to look at those things so that you are getting that input. Those are steps to, that can very easily be taken, but again, I think we just are so busy and we get in our day to day and we fly from one thing to the next thing. And we've just, don't even think about this. 

JK: Yeah, the data piece is an important summit. I was chatting recently about this. It's like, yeah, just capture the data and write it down on a piece of paper, you know, whether it's gender diversity or age diversity or racial diversity and just, it's not a judgment, it's just like, look at it.

Right. See how it affects you. Right. See if it feels right or wrong for any reason. And use that to inform. You know, whether it's hiring decisions or cultural decisions in the company, you know, I'm already thinking it would have an offsite coming up and I'm already thinking like, oh yeah, I want to make sure I've got, you know, respectful events for everybody and activities that are supportive or different races and genders and cultures. And I think we're macrobiotic for a moment. I need to just check in on that maturity. I feel good about it. So those are great examples. Yeah. That's super helpful. I'm curious. This is one that if you are a white male executive in the space, it's not always because you've been in a position of privilege.

It's not always clear why it's important to be proactive about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think it's important for people to feel comfortable, right? Why is there a need to be proactive in companies who have done really well for a long time without it? Right. But where have you found that it's important?

TS: Yeah, I think so. Haven't had as much run like here. Although I talked with my executive team about things that I love to get started. Page nine, just to give you a couple of examples of things that I did in my previous organization, but I think you can't really say that you're an organization that cares deeply about diversity and inclusion, unless you are Doing something about it, you know, you can say it in taglines or you have to actually put your money where your mouth is. And one of the first things that we decided to do was invest in a position that was a director of diversity and inclusion, an individual that was of a minority rights that could relate to that, that could help us understand. Right. And make sure that. We had someone who was solely focused on doing various things, to make sure that we were going to make change happen from why did you feel that was, why didn't you feel?

JK: I mean, this gets a little bit into this social entrepreneurship question or the social enterprise question, right? Did you do it because you felt like there was a, it was good for the world or did you feel because you felt like it was good for the business? 

TS: I felt like it was good for the business and the world. I mean, I guess both, when you think about it, the core of why I thought it was important was that when you say you care about it as a leadership team, or as a CEO of a company or an executive of a company, and you have your day job, And decisions are driven by the bottom line, or you need various things to happen.

It's very easy to put those other things out of your mind and to have someone there who's going to fight for that because it's a hundred percent of what their job is about. Making sure that you're creating more jobs for diverse and minority candidates, making sure that you're getting equity put throughout your organization, making sure that you're going out into the community.

And, you know, talking about it, educating, you know, all of those sorts of things. You can't really say that, you know, you're a company that cares about it. And so you have that and then, oh, by the way, when you do have that though, Jason, your bottom line doesn't prove it truly. And so I'd be a fool to sit here and say that it wasn't business impactful too, because it is, it truly is you make better decisions when you have a more diverse and inclusive approach to running a business period End of sentence. 

JK: Yeah. When I take a step back, right. Kind of go to the 50,000 foot level and I think, right, we are building a platform to transform. The way commercial insurance agents do business. And the reality is insurance agents work with all people of different races and genders And if we're not making product decisions that support. Both the people who, the agencies in the industry and the customers that they serve in a way that is, um, kind of a holistic view and represents inputs and perspectives from a diverse audience, then we're doing our business service. All right. And so, and if we don't have a diverse employee for them, you know, there's no way we're going to have the perspective that we need to make the right business decisions to support our customers in the way of its own shirt.

I think we're doing a pretty good job on that gender diversity. We do a little bit better on the racial diversity. Um, somebody I was talking to recently made a really good point, which is. DE&I, you know, it's first about diversity, which is diversity is important, but then you can have diversity without inclusion, right? So it's one thing to have a diverse group. It's another, it's another to make those people feel included. Um, I think that goes back a little bit to what you were saying about the events and the language. What are some things you guys are doing, thinking about during NHI to try to increase the amount that people feel included in business?

TS: One of the concepts that I want to bring forward here is, and I've done it before. It was a me thing, but just to have these opportunities where you have sort of a round table and you invite very diverse groups throughout the organization to just talk about when the George Floyd situation happened back to that, we hosted several round tables. We just allow people to talk and those round tables turn into more round tables and more on cables, right? Because there's always something that can be triggering. And just having that environment within your organization and actively listening to the diverse individuals within your organization about how they feel about certain things. Because again, I'm not a black male. I am not going to know how it feels when something gets said, Or how it could be triggering. And if you're not opening up the lines of communication to those individuals, to hear what they have to say, you're never going to know you're never going to quite get there. So it starts with those little steps, but that was one successful thing that I talked about doing here too, is just having these sort of open forums around tables where people can come and talk about how can we get better at inclusive.

What does that really mean? It doesn't just mean being invited to the meeting. It actually means creating an environment within that leading refill. Like you can open your mouth and talk to, and that's a difference. Yeah.

JK:  I think that's super important. My aspiration is that, I think thi is going to be a period of time where it's necessary to be very explicit about the need for these things. My hope is that we get to a point where it's not needed and it's not a topic. That becomes something in which we're sitting around the room with a diverse group and people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and then it's just part of the business.

I realize that that is easier said than done. It's a transition, especially in an industry that hasn't been historically very diverse. I'm excited where we're going. We just raised some capital, we're about to go into a pretty aggressive hiring base. This is a hot topic for us, how do we make sure that at a minimum, considering people with different races and genders for all the roles and how we go about making those choices? I don't know that we've landed on candidly, just to be perfectly transparent. What happens when you get to a point when you know the male candidate is slightly more skilled than a female candidate, but you want more diversity? Have you made that choice or the racially diverse candidate? If anybody listening has suggestions on how to tackle this, I’m seriously interested in it. When you're growing a business, you want to get the foundation right. I think for me, a lot of the reasons for doing this show is probably an opportunity to learn and vocalize some of the things that we're going to struggle with and hear from leaders in the space who dealt with it. 

TS: Yeah, this is the first thing it's about talking about it in education. But you're right, when you go down that path of hiring individuals and the recruitment process. One of the greatest things we did is scrubbing our ads and our job descriptions. Even in how you word certain things for certain positions, it can be a detriment to a certain class or race of people. Sort of this thread that when we pull it, you start to realize all the things that are impacted through it and starting at that recruitment and hiring phase and going all the way through the life cycle of your organization. There's a lot to be learned about how to do things differently, to be more inclusive.

JK: It starts with people, right? It's funny, I've been listening to other podcasts about entrepreneurs and culture and success, and it always comes back to building that foundation as you bring people in. The way in which you bring them in, the way in which you market your business to that position, that company, that's how you start building their foundation.

So they do that work. We're going to do that now, and it's super exciting that Tina, as you know, the show is called ‘The Enlightened Agent’, because we like to share stories about amazing people, managing agents, doing amazing things. It's defined as, “the state of having knowledge or understanding”. I'm curious, in your career, what are some things you've done or plan to do going forward to improve diversity equity inclusion in the business of insurance? 

TS: This is a loaded question, but I have so much. I just don't have enough hours in the day to do the things I want to do. A couple of the things that I have done and will continue to do, and I challenge anyone listening to do, is serve in a role of being a manager. I have continued to mentor and I’ve purposely chosen minority or women, individuals to be a manager whether within the military or in civilian career. I've learned a lot through the bumps and bruises and skinned knees. I think it’s my responsibility to pay for it. So, I started a mentorship program

within the military and I've continued that externally as well, because I feel like that is an opportunity to pave a different path for people, the next generation with people coming into the workforce.

What can I take and instill in them? I would love to get some of those things going more within the insurance industry. To me, it does lack some of the minority and some of the diversity that we need to try to drive towards. So finding ways to be able to do that, I think would be a great first out. I also want to get various things started at age nine to include those round tables and open forum discussion. And again, to look at our recruitment efforts as well, I think there's lots of stuff to do. Those are some of the quick hits that I think would have lasting impacts in this industry.

JK: I love the mentorship angle because even though we talk about it as a giving back, I think it's actually a pretty fascinating way for an executive to get honest feedback directly from people of color about what it's like to be a junior person of color or different with the general gender or just in a different generation.

TS: Right? Like understanding, you know, we talk about millennials and gen Z and it's like, we talk about them, but you know, not a lot of us really understand them. And when you're mentoring somebody, I feel like you get a different level of intimacy. What they're going through. That's right. As a manager or a boss that you're not going to get those people to share with you.

JK: Right. So, so I love, I love the mentorship angle and on the recruiting front, we're going to have a CEO on a show, a company called CEO, a company called safari that focuses on focuses on helping racially diverse people, find jobs in the insurance industry and helps insurance industry companies establish roles and create a space sports. So I'm excited about having Jalonda on the show in a couple of weeks. And so, yeah, this is, she's already been an outstanding start to the series. And so I really appreciate you coming on the show as always, this has been an enlightening conversation and let's before we wrap up here and they you'd like to say or share with the listeners about, but you about DEI about HNI.

Anything else you want to get out of? 

TS: Now, I just want to thank you for the time. Keep up with the education and keep the discussion going. It's really, you know, we can't stop talking about it. 

JK:  Yeah I agree. I’ve accepted this opportunity to jam out so that you're able to make some time to join us on the show.

TS: I look forward to working with you and other insurance executives in the coming weeks and months.

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Published on:

Monday, June 6, 2022