During Women’s History Month this year, the IAM is highlighting current trailblazers in the union. Are you an IAM Sister interested in taking a more active role in your union? Reach out to your District leadership about the IAM Leadership Assembly of Dedicated Sisters (LEADS) Program.
Jessica Deming is a founding member of the Local 63 Young Workers Committee. She later became the Woman’s Committee Chair and went on to be elected to the Local Executive Board. This year, she became president of Local 63.
She credits former Local 63 President John Kleiboeker for helping her to get her start as a leader.
“John encouraged me and provided opportunities for growth in the union,” said Deming. “Coming from a family with all sisters, to having all daughters, coaching softball, and now as a joint programs administrator, John is, and has always been, an advocate. My experience was that I could always count on him to ask me where I need him to stand. When there were injustices, he would get mad along with us, truly mad. The level of trust that John has built between him and the sisters should be the rule for other advocates.”
Deming says the biggest obstacle she has faced is feeling brave.
“I have always had the guts to speak up and be heard, but the further I move up in leadership, the more thoughts of ‘am I good enough’ creep in,” said Deming. “When I am facing a new leadership position, I worry if I will be able to handle the responsibilities. I wonder can I inspire our brothers and sisters to follow me. I’m out here banging on doors for opportunities, but when the times comes where they give you a shot, then you have to perform.”
“The aspect, if I’m being honest, that has been the hardest part is believing in myself,” said Deming. “I think many women, and I know I do, feel like we carry the burden of all women. When you fail or make a mistake, then it feels bigger than yourself. I’m not letting just myself down, I’m letting down the young sisters coming after me. I feel like those bridges that my generation are unable to climb will undoubtedly land on our sister’s tomorrow. I feel that responsibility very deeply. It is our young sisters faces I see when I think about giving in to the struggle.”
Deming credits the IAM women’s conference in 2019, including her role as a speaker there, for inspiring her to overcome that obstacle. She recalls other speakers who talked about how women tend to turn down job offers unless they feel they can do everything the position requires immediately. Men, on other hand, will go for a job they don’t know much about and figure it will work out.
The speaker, Deming said, “called on us sisters to be brave and believe in ourselves.”
“She asked us not to turn down opportunities because we are scared we won’t be able to cut it,” said Deming. “I really related to what she was speaking to, and when I am offered an opportunity that I want to do, I take it. I won’t say that it isn’t scary, because it can be. But, at the end of the day, I’ve learned my feet still work even when I am scared. I put one foot in front of the other and before I know it, I am coming out the other side, in spite of the doubt. That big scary thing that is in your path has been deconstructed, and you realize you were capable, and not only have you built faith in yourself, but in the brothers and sisters that stand beside you”.
Deming’s advice for women members in the union is to not be afraid to speak up.
“Networking can be difficult for sisters. We tend to be main caretakers of the home,” said Deming. “We have less opportunity to build relationships that lead to leadership positions. We have to make the best use of our when interacting. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask a questions at your general meeting. Don’t be afraid to give an opinion, because it lets people know you can speak up for yourself, and it builds trust in you as a leader. Sometimes it can feel like we are all fighting for the same spot. We have to make the decision to uplift our sisters. We are all from different backgrounds and have had very different experiences. We should learn from each other.”
Deming admired the late Western Territory Grand Lodge Representative Maria Santiago-Lillis.
“While I was trying to navigate how to move up in the union, I would ask Maria 1,000 questions,” said Deming. “She always would take the time to work things out with me. I knew I could trust her guidance. Maria, along with Mary McHugh and Julie Taylor-Frietchen have gone out of their way to put me in situations that are challenging. They would say ‘If you feel like we are picking on you, we are.’ Because they understood that the world can be tough for women leaders.”
“Jessica is a fine young leader who always brings hope and a great attitude into any question,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen. “I can remember Maria telling me about Jessica’s great potential and her heartfelt desire to help people and her inner strength.”
“I hope other members understand that we have sisters that really want to be involved.” said Deming. “I think there is this traditional approach to mentoring throughout the world, but we need to ask are we encouraging and presenting leadership opportunities in a way that inspires our sisters to grab those opportunities?”
Deming hopes that by sharing her story, “that we continue to come together. We should try to understand each other’s experience in a way that fosters unity”.
“I hope it inspires us to get to know each other and hear opinions from sisters that think in a completely different way,” said Deming. “We should always remember women’s issues are union issues. We are the unstoppable force in our union and everywhere else. With fist raised high we say, ‘We are the storm!’”