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Insights from WM’s New Area General Manager About Women in Leadership

September 25, 2023 |

Long before the term “sustainability” became as commonplace as it is today, Jessica Jones was drawn to designing green buildings and sustainable solutions. Her mother’s occupation as an engineering technician, coupled with her twin brother’s interest in mechanical engineering, served as a catalyst for Jessica to pursue a career in civil engineering. In an interview about the challenges and opportunities of her new position, the recently appointed first Area General Manager for WM Northern California-Nevada speaks of hope and the balanced dose of optimism with which she intends to help communities and the environment thrive.

“I try hard to be part of the solution and not complain about the problems. It is so much easier to get down about what is broken. That is the engineer in me; let us try to find a way to fix it. We all have control over making little improvements. I am inspired to do that.”

Though Jessica did not let gender disparities deter her goals, the lack of gender diversity in the classroom was hard to miss. When she graduated from California State University, Sacramento, in 1996, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated that the percentage of women majoring in engineering was around 16% nationwide. Almost 22 years later, that number has only grown to 21%.

The sluggish pace of progress has never discouraged Jessica’s forward-looking mindset. In true engineering fashion, she possesses an inherently constructive outlook. Rather than allowing a glass ceiling in her field to discourage her, Jessica has harnessed it as a wellspring of motivation, propelling her to chart new frontiers within the WM organization. Her ambition extends beyond personal success, as she aims to pave the way not just for herself but also for the multitude of women seeking leadership roles who will walk her path in the future.

“When I was in college, women represented 16% of the classroom. I grew up in a different generation, so I had to figure out a way to stand out, a way to show that I was worthy and should be recognized. I did not want to get passed up for opportunities because I was different. I have always worked hard,” she reflects.

Career Advice for Female Business Leaders

As the first person to ever hold the Area General Manager title at WM Northern California-Nevada, Jessica knows firsthand that even when the odds may not be in her favor, subtle strategies have the power to break long-standing barriers. Her career advice for other women in leadership roles is to welcome the uncomfortable. Every pioneer will likely confront the uneasiness of walking uncharted paths. “Plain hard work and a genuine disposition to get things done,” she also affirms, was the attitude that helped her gain the respect of her male counterparts.

WM's Area General Manager for Northern California Nevada, Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones, WM’s Area General Manager for Northern California-Nevada, photographed at Lockwood Landfill in Nevada.

Nonetheless, she acknowledges that female leadership must work to break gender stereotypes. “I did need to be liked before I was respected. If a male boss is tough, he could be considered a good boss. But as a woman, it can be a little harder to get that level of respect without being disliked,” she says.

The urge to blend in can often feel like a matter of survival. Jessica advises other female business leaders in male-dominated fields to invest in themselves, find their voice, and fight the instinct to meekly fit in. Whether taking on a management position or just a new role, bring your own qualities and experience to the table. “You are already seen differently when you walk into a room full of men. But I got used to that environment. I am a very half-full-glass type of person. I try to look at the bright side of everything. It is just how I like to look at life. I will never allow myself to think that this is as far as I can go with developing myself or my professional career.”

Jessica comments that she only recently became acquainted with “imposter syndrome,” a phenomenon of self-doubt among high-achieving professionals, the opposite of “fake it ’til you make it.” Though she had some self-doubt in the past, she never allowed it to interfere with her goals. “It is not just a woman thing. Sometimes, you do not feel worthy because suddenly, you look around and do not feel like you have the credentials to be there. Just because you recognize your gaps, it does not mean you cannot fill them. You should not stop. Just keep pushing, working hard, and looking for feedback.”

Analyzing the journey leading up to her recent promotion, Jessica affirmed that women and men should not be afraid to go for what they want, step up, and take risks. Voicing opinions and the desire to progress in the workplace, she suggests, are effective ways to make people aware of your capabilities, and drive, and ambition.

The Impact of an Area General Manager

In 2022, the state of California made pivotal mandatory laws to fight the climate crisis. The enactment of Senate Bill 1383 opened a new chapter in sustainability with a statewide effort to reduce the emission of short-lived climate pollutants, specifically methane. The goal is to reduce organic waste disposal by 75% before 2025 while rescuing 20% of the currently wasted food surplus to redirect it to people in need.

The state also aims to eliminate single-use, non-recyclable, and non-compostable plastic products by 2032. With Senate Bill 54, producers are required to manufacture packaging that is fully recyclable or compostable in an effort to reduce waste. These landmark policies represent a new era for the management of waste, one in which corporations, governments, and civil society must work together to fight climate change at every possible level.

As North America’s leading waste management solutions provider, WM is betting on an unambiguous recipe to navigate the complexities of handling waste environmentally and help states achieve their sustainability goals. The company continually invests in updated technology, prioritizes community outreach education, and genuinely embraces a people-first approach. With innovation, education, and experienced talent at every level of WM’s business, the company works to create a better tomorrow for all.

a forklift near a wall of baled recycled inventory at WM's sacramento recycling center

A forklift driver organizing stacks of baled recycling inventory at WM’s Sacramento Recycling Center.

As AGM, Jessica is responsible for managing WM’s trash, recycling, and organics waste after they have been picked up. The AGM oversees all aspects of the operation, with a primary focus on maximizing the value of discarded materials to promote sustainable ways to handle waste. She is here to help WM extract the most out of every piece of discarded material and continue to support a full-circle economy: landfill gas turns into energy, recyclables find their way into new products, and organic waste evolves into compost to grow something new.

Jessica understands the weight of her responsibility and the importance of her work. Despite the potential challenges that come with her role, she remains optimistic and enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable future. “It is a new position. We did not have one in this Area [Northern California-Nevada] before. I am going to do the best I can. I am going to hope that I inspire others to do the best they can. I am going to hold people accountable. I hope that helps people thrive.”

Leading Together

Without dedicated people at every level of the WM organization, leaders are unable to make an impact. Drivers, sorters, and other frontline workers are the foundation of our company; without them, there is no business. As a leader, Jessica’s professional approach to problem-solving is one in which everybody has a seat at the table, so she counts on everyone’s knowledge to drive the area’s goals. “I am not going to make decisions in a vacuum. Obviously, there are decisions I will make myself, but it will not be without feedback and information from others. I am going to listen to others and respect their opinions.”

The challenges of her role neither scare nor stress her. With the pragmatism shaped by her background in engineering, Jessica takes it in day by day, with the confidence of someone who has invested 13 years at WM. As the steward of responsible waste management in Northern California and Nevada, Jessica plays a pivotal role in advancing sustainability efforts, aligning her work with California’s ambitious goals to combat the climate crisis. Jessica’s journey reminds us that effective change is achieved through hard work, perseverance, and a shared commitment to making a difference. As she continues to shape her corner of the world, she hopes others will draw inspiration from her story to create a more sustainable and equitable future. As goes California (and Northern Nevada), so goes the nation.

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