With more than twenty years of experience in human resources leadership under her belt, Diane Emery is held in high regard throughout Florida’s academic landscape. As a longtime member on the board of the Independent Colleges and Universities Benefits Association (ICUBA)—a group of independent, not-for-profit academic institutions that come together to provide medical benefits to their employees—Emery has helped advance benefits within several institutions to help staff thrive in their positions.
Emery spent the past fifteen years of her career at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)—a private, nonprofit research institution in Fort Lauderdale. In early 2020, she was offered a job at Barry University under the recommendation of a fellow ICUBA member, a vice president and CHRO at Barry University.
“I’m looking forward to the change,” Emery says. The new role is similar her job at NSU, though she won’t have compensation reporting up to her.
“It’s a smaller university, and it will be strictly benefits and administration. Instead of four thousand employees, it will be eight hundred,” she says. “It will be hands-on. I will be working closely with the faculty and staff, hopefully to help them make some healthy lifestyle changes.”
Naturally, it’ll be a lifestyle change for her as well.
Emery graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Tulsa in her home state of Oklahoma and moved to New York City with aspirations of making it in the arts. In between consulting and freelance work, she would do temp work at an office. Eventually, that office went private and they were looking for someone to come in and help set up the HR department.
“I needed to make a commitment to them, and I did, and I left all of my freelancing jobs behind and helped set up this HR department, and that’s how I got involved in this industry,” Emery explains. “A lot of the work that I’ve done, even in New York, was about benefits, and that always interested me.”
Emery moved to Miami and took a job working for Vincam, a professional employer organization, where she was tasked with onboarding new clients and doing due diligence around the benefit plans and coverages. Jobs at a couple of other health-related companies followed before she found a fifteen-year home at NSU.
“When I had first moved down from New York, I did a very small consulting job for NSU—I implemented a benefit admin component of their payroll system—and it was just a three-month thing,” Emery notes. “I stayed in touch with the director and she contacted me years later and said there was a problem in the benefits area, so she asked me to come in and take a look.”
“For me, I enjoy the interaction with people—and not just the employees. I love supervising my staff and it’s important for me to see that they can continue to develop their skills.”
Although Emery began her time there as a consultant, it wasn’t long before she moved into a permanent position, eventually moving up to managing director of total rewards. In this position, she helped create an appropriate wellness and benefit strategy to support the mission of the university.
“It’s an interesting area because it does signal how an enterprise values its employees,” she says. “It’s really personal. Your programs need to be focused on people. But it’s also very compliance-based and process-based because you need to mitigate risk for the enterprise. You have to have employee satisfaction and utilization, and you have to be able to advocate for your employees when they need help.”
Emery starts out by looking at data, as it points her to the areas that need the most attention. This step is challenging because there are different data sets for behavioral health benefits, prescription drug programs, and others.
“It does help you understand the most important things to do and informs the way we develop our program in our wellness area and it informs us about the components of the benefit plans we promote,” she says. “You have to wrap it up and look at performance guarantees with your vendors. It’s about people, it’s about compliance, and it’s about process.”
When Emery first started at NSU, she sought to mend the sick leave donation policy, creating a way to move away from the old program and towards a self-funded short-term disability program.
“We were able to provide a better safety net for employees who had been working at the University for at least three months, as the prior program required a year,” she says. “We were able to provide 60 percent benefits for six months and to extend the period of time that the University continued to make premium payments. It was really successful and probably the thing I am most proud of.”
Heading to another mission-driven institution, Emery knows they don’t have a short-term disability program currently, and that’s one of the things she plans on looking at once she begins her job.
“My general philosophy of this work isn’t going to change. I’m still going to be looking at the data, I’m still going to be ensuring compliance to make sure we’re mitigating risk for the enterprise, and we’re going to be taking care of the employees,” Emery says. “The wellness piece of it will be a little different, as the population health data will be different than NSU’s and it’s going to be a little bit different demographically.”
She plans to source some new relationships with vendors and get things moving quickly.
“For me, I enjoy the interaction with people—and not just the employees. I love supervising my staff and it’s important for me to see that they can continue to develop their skills,” Emery says. “I’m also a little bit of a process person, so I’m always interested in trying to understand how to improve the way we administer health and wellness plans, and how can we engage employees better.”
Lockton celebrates Diane for her innovation and leadership. Lockton has grown to be the world’s largest privately held insurance broker by empowering our associates to focus solely on helping our clients achieve their business objectives. What makes us stand apart is also what makes us better: independence.