Last week was National Women’s Equality week, and so fittingly, we had the opportunity to interview board member, Jeannine “Jeanie” Giesler. A trailblazer, a servant-leader, and someone we admire so greatly.
She shares with us what started as an accidental career path that grew into a deep passion for broadening her understanding of the industry and a daily pursuit for helping others.
She started with Blue Cross and became very interested in a health care bill. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 required employers to allow women who are pregnant the same leaves of absence they’d give an employee on leave for sickness or disability. It was a landmark piece of legislation. She became passionate about how advocacy and persistence can help change and progress our society.
She had to take a sabbatical when her daughter was born with a heart condition. Her family, jokingly, blamed her for the heart condition because Jeanie went skydiving before she realized she was pregnant! Blue Cross contacted her and offered her the opportunity to work remotely, and always appreciated being able to work while staying at home with her daughter. Fortunately, her daughter outgrew the condition.
Always an adventurist, she added two more children to her family, each with their own adventurous, high-soaring stories. With baby 2, Rick, she went on a hot air balloon ride at 7-months. They said if she could get in on her own, they would take her. She got in! Finally, baby 3, Kelsey arrived no differently! Jeanie decided to go parasailing while pregnant.
Clearly, a woman that was fearless and was willing to confront any challenge, her career continued to soar. She met Mark Reilly, an insurance agent, when their children attended school together. She started to work for the agency and did many different things over the years. Mark started acquiring agencies and Jeanie would assist with the due diligence and lead the onboarding of new staff.
In 2005, things were going well, and Mark offered Jeanie a partnership and she became an agency owner. She never thought she would be an owner in and agency but was up to the challenge! They broadened their marketing efforts and engaged with digital efforts which helped build their business substantially.
She recalls often being the only female in the room. She learned quickly it was a matter of how you take things and how you presented yourself. The industry was very welcoming of her and it was a time when diversity was welcomed. Jeanie shares: “Don’t be afraid to step up and ask questions, everyone is wanting to learn from others and hear different perspectives.” Furthermore, “change takes time, one ripple can become a tsunami.”
She never minded being the only female in the room. She became very involved with the National Big I, and they were always proactive in engaging in diversity issues. Jeanie notes, “Seeing a female on a ticket for the highest position in the country shows anyone can achieve a high position but you must speak up, get involved and ask questions.”
A great extension of her career is the work that she does with CERT – Citizens Emergency Response Team. It’s an opportunity for citizens to help local communities, police and fire when resources are tight. They help with storm clean up, advance support for community events, and catastrophes when your county Emergency Management Association (EMA) activates. There is ample training, certifications, and evaluations. Jeanie says it has been a rewarding way to tap into her experiences and skills as an independent agent and stay deeply connected with her community.
As a female trailblazer, she had to learn early on in her career how to balance family, illness, career, and community. She has served as a pillar in our industry. For our next generation leaders, she advocates for you to find a mentor. Don’t limit yourself to just one, you can have several for different aspects of your life and career. Also, don’t box yourself in with what traditionally defines a mentor, you can learn as much from a young influencer as a seasoned veteran. If they can help you embrace change and provide you with honesty, then you have found someone to be a part of your adventure, we call life.