This month’s professional spotlight features Naomi Demsas. Naomi is currently an Associate at a Labor and Employment Law Firm. She is also a member of EDN’s Leadership Team. Learn more about Naomi and her work below.

Could you briefly explain some of your responsibilities in your current career role?

I am currently an Associate at Labor and Employment Law Firm. I work with workers in various industries and provide legal representation to the labor community. The firm specializes in union-side representation, but works with individuals as well. I work with clients to address various work place issues that relate to their collective bargaining rights. I also work to help form collective bargaining agreements with unions and employers.

How did you come to decide that this was the right career path for you?

I watched my parents, as most of us do, struggle at work. They lived in fear of being fired, they lived in fear of being arbitrarily disciplined on a daily basis. I always thought there was something wrong with that, especially because people like my parents spend 40 hours/plus a week at work. I believed that accountability should go both ways. In college, I learned about unions, and how they could provide people like my parents some level of accountability in the workplace. I did some organizing on campus but my passion was further fueled when I worked for a Workers Rights organization called Jobs with Justice. Unions even out the playing field between worker and boss, and have been instrumental in raising wages for low skilled workers. I believed that fighting for workers’ rights is one way to create transformative change in our world. Everyone works. Everyone has a stake in the fight.

Is there a philosophy that drives your career?

I don’t know if there’s a philosophy but I’ll tell you a story. When I first started at JWJ, I thought I was “too good” to be doing the job I was hired to do. I’d butt into discussions, and everyone would indulge me but I didn’t know what I was talking about. I literally had such a bad attitude and was a pill to work with. Well in my 6-month evaluation, my boss asked me if I wanted to be there. I responded “Yes” and then she said, “Well, do your job!” She let me know that if I wanted to be there she would support and help me, but asked me to “humble myself”. She was right. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and I crossed over to the dark side. I learned though, the value of taking feedback and “humbling yourself”. I learned more during my time at Jobs with Justice than anywhere else.  You too will learn more if you seize the opportunity.

What do you consider to be your greatest professional accomplishment?

Well this has nothing to do with my career now, but once in college I worked with “at risk” (hate that term) youth in Watsonville, California in a summer program teaching incoming 9th graders. A group of former participants, who had gang affiliations, came back as volunteers this particular summer.   One day a student who was affiliated with a rival gang confronted one of the volunteers.  When I went to go see what was going on, I found the former student being protected by two of my current students who were in a rival gang. I heard them say to the current student “Naomi is going to kill us if we let you get him bro.”  That, to this day, is my greatest professional achievement. Just knowing I had an impact in that way was powerful and has always resonated with me.

What’s one piece of advice you would give someone looking to transition into your line of work?

Anyone can be a lawyer! YOU can do it! Yes, you can! IF you’re willing to put in the time and effort it requires. You got it.

In Light of the recent election, what are your tips for working with people whose beliefs and values may not align with yours?

Four things:

  1. Although people discuss politics in the office, as a general rule of thumb politics should be kept out of the work place
  2. When it is unavoidable, listen to the person and without being cynical or mean and ask clarifying questions. Ask why they feel a certain way or how they arrived at a certain position. Don’t be judgmental or rude because that will allow them to walk away feeling validated in their assertions. After all you may learn something new
  3. Don’t feel you have to respond right then. Its perfectly acceptable to take a step back and approach the conversation later. I’ve found that generally people, if they feel heard by you, will create space for you to revisit certain conversations with them. It may require patience, but timing is everything. It’s never the what, it’s the how
  4. Lastly, if you really need to vent, call your best friend, sister, brother, Dad or Mom and vent to them, not coworkers

Outside of all of your hard work and efforts toward building your brand, what do you do for fun? Hobbies?

For Fun, I like to pretend I go to the gym (although I enjoy a good run). I love a good Podcast (Serial, This American Life, Undisclosed, Two Dope Queens) and TV shows (Game of Thrones and The Office)! I like movies, live music, hanging with friends and family. I’d love to travel more and read more.