Keeping your seat at the table: an interview with Nori Jabba


Oftentimes we face unexpected challenges and have to work through them. But for Nori Jabba, author of a memoir and guide on regaining confidence and power in middle age, what she discovered was such an eye-opener that she was inspired to share her journey with others.

Nori's book, ďKeeping Your Seat at the TableĒ, reveals why middle-aged women are so often passed over for jobs for which they are well-qualified, how she got back at the table and how other women can too.

She describes herself as a writer, mentor, coach, mom, dog lover, backyard chicken farmer and community development professional. Nori, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Well, thank you. I'm pleased to be here.

Keeping Your Seat at the Table is part memoir, part guidebook. What inspired you to write it and to approach it in this way?

So my journey started about five years ago when I decided I needed to go back to work. I had been consulting for almost ten years and had a good consulting business, but I had lost one of my big clients and I couldn't replace them. So I decided, you know, I'm missing the camaraderie of being on a team.

So I put my resume together and I have 30 years of experience - good experience - I had very good jobs and I had awards. I won Business Woman of the Year for my Chamber of Commerce and, you know, I thought this, I knew it would be a challenge but I didn't think it would be that hard and literally no one would hire me. I would not even get responses most of the time. When I did, I always came in second.

After months and months of this, it was really depleting my self-esteem. So I decided to stop and find out what was really going on and really look into ageism because something was very wrong here. So that's what inspired me to do it and the journey just evolved and the book being a guide, I realized from what I learned, I just could not keep this to myself because I know so many women are going through it. Even if they have a good job and they feel like they have their seat at the table, when you start aging and you start feeling that ageism - snide remarks at work or dismissiveness from younger workers, anything can trigger it - you really have to stop and look and think about it on a bigger level.

You know, that's a very interesting point because when you read about ageism, we all broadly know what it means, but as you said there with those couple of illustrations, snide comments from someone younger and so on, it is very personal and it's something that's not just a piece of HR jargon and something that organizations need to do their best to ensure does not exist in the workplace culture.

So, from a personal perspective, can you share with us what shocked you the most? What did you feel the most? What was that moment where you just thought this just is too much?

Yeah. So what I did to really learn what was going on and so I had applied for a job with a big corporation and I really thought I had it. They had reached out to me and so I thought I had it and I didn't get it. Came in second again.

The HR person sent me the email and I reached out to her and said, ďlook, I'm going to write a book about this topic. Would you have coffee with me?Ē And she said, yes. I drove 60 miles to meet her and mind you, nothing happens for a reason because driving 60 miles towards for that coffee meeting, the commute would have been the same and it would have done me in over the years. So everything turned out just fine.

But she had coffee with me and I asked her, why is it so hard for middle-aged women to get a job? And she was middle-aged herself, which over late forties maybe and thank goodness because I was not happy with what I heard, but I had to listen because I had invited her. But she told me she really unloaded on me because I don't think anybody had ever asked her that. And I think she was sharing the frustration too. And I think she also felt badly too because she was a middle-aged woman and she was turning down all these people herself.

So one thing that she said was that middle-aged women don't listen. And of course she prefaced what she was saying by stressing that that was her experience. This may not be personally how she feels about middle-aged women. This is just her observations over the years in HR. So middle-aged women don't listen.

I really was upset by that comment and wanted to put my hands on my ears and not listen to what she was saying. But I listened and I dug deeper. I dug deeper and I found that what she was saying was, middle-aged women don't listen to what's not being said. And so that's what I mean by when you get dismissive remarks and things like that, I mean, there's a lot being said and middle-aged women, they do have very good communication skills. We've learned a lot over the years, but when we start to feel that ageism, we start to doubt ourselves and our communication skills go out the window and we start to react instead of responding.

So that's what shocked me the most because I'm in marketing and PR. I've been in it for over 30 years and I've worked with a lot of HR people and I've helped them solve their communications problems. And so for her to tell me this, I had to take a step back and really think about it. And I started to think about my own interactions and the interactions I had been observing and I realized she was right.

So the book is about so much more than just getting a job, right? It's really about confidence and self-esteem and believing in yourself. And I think that's what shocked me the most. And I wanted to help other women. I mean, if I can do it, anybody can do it. And I think we all have the answers inside of us. We just have to dig deep and pull them out.

Absolutely. I mean, it's very profound. And the way you describe it, it's not just about a job. It's about a sense of identity and confidence and almost a validation of your worth that you're seeking. You mentioned this really important point about how women might react to these situations. So can you share some strategies or advice on how women, or even anyone facing these kinds of situations, can respond effectively without losing their self-esteem or their cool in such situations?

Yes, absolutely. I think first and foremost, and I talk about this a lot in the book, is we really have to stop and become aware. When something happens, and it could be something small, it could be just a look or a tone of voice or anything, we really have to stop and become aware and think about what just happened and not react. Don't let that automatic reaction take over. Because usually that reaction is, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe they said that. I'm so mad. I'm so upset."

You know, you go through the whole cycle of emotions. You really have to stop and become aware and really think about it. And what I found is a lot of times when you do that, when you really stop and think about it, you realize, well, maybe I was being a little bit oversensitive. Maybe they didn't mean it that way. And I think that's what happens with a lot of these situations is things get misconstrued and we start to doubt ourselves and we start to not feel good about ourselves. So we really have to stop and become aware and think about it.

The second thing is, is once you do that, then you can choose how you want to respond. And I'm all about responding and not reacting. So when you respond, you come from a position of power. When you react, you come from a position of weakness and vulnerability. And that's when people start to take advantage of you because they see that. And so when you respond, you can respond in a way that's assertive and confident. You don't have to be aggressive. You don't have to be mean. You don't have to be confrontational. But you can respond in a way that sets boundaries and lets people know that you are not going to be treated that way.

When you do that, people start to respect you. They might not like you, but they'll respect you. And that's what's important. So it's really important to stop and become aware, think about it and choose how you want to respond. And it takes practice. It really takes practice because our automatic reaction is just to react and not think about it. But the more you practice, the better you get at it. And it really does become a habit.

I love how you emphasize the importance of self-awareness and that moment of pause before reacting. It's a powerful skill to cultivate, not just in the context of workplace situations, but in life in general. And as you mentioned, it takes practice, but it can make a significant difference.

So going back to the book, "Keeping Your Seat at the Table," you've shared your own experiences and insights, and you've also included stories and experiences from other women. Can you share a particular story or example from the book that you found especially inspiring or impactful?

Yeah, there are so many, but one that really stands out to me is a woman that I interviewed, and I didn't use her real name in the book, but I call her Jessica. And she was actually a college student when I interviewed her, and I had met her through a friend. And she had a part-time job, and I think she was working in retail. And she was telling me that her manager was just treating her terribly, and she was in tears. And she said, "I don't understand. I don't know what to do."

So we talked, and I gave her some advice, and she went back and she followed the advice, and things got a little bit better, but they didn't get great. And so she reached out to me a few months later, and she was so excited, and she said, "Nori, you're not going to believe what happened." And I said, "What?" And she said, "I stood up to my manager, and I told her that I would not be treated this way anymore, and I quit my job." And she was so proud of herself, and I was so proud of her. And she said, "I just want to thank you for giving me the confidence to do that."

I thought, "Wow, if a college student can do that, then we all can do that." And I just thought that was so inspiring. And I put her story in the book because I wanted other women to read it and be inspired by it as well. So that's one story that really stands out to me.

That's incredibly inspiring, and it just shows the power of standing up for oneself, regardless of the situation or the age. It's a universal message. Thank you for sharing that. Now, as we talk about ageism and gender bias, these are deeply ingrained societal issues, and they require a collective effort to change. What changes do you hope to see in the workplace and society at large to address these issues?

I think the first change that needs to happen is awareness. And I think we're starting to see that. I think people are becoming more aware of the issues and are starting to talk about it. And I think that's where it starts, is just being aware that it's happening. And I think that's the first step.

The second step is education. We really need to educate people about ageism and gender bias and what it looks like and how it affects people and how it affects the workplace.

The third thing is accountability. We need to hold people accountable for their actions. And I think that's starting to happen as well. I think people are starting to be held accountable. And I think that's really important.

The fourth thing is just treating people with respect and kindness. I mean, it sounds so simple, but if we just treated people with respect and kindness, a lot of these issues would go away.

The fifth thing is just being open-minded and being open to change. I think a lot of times, people are afraid of change. And I think if we're open to change and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, I think that would help as well.

Absolutely. Awareness, education, accountability, respect, kindness, and openness to change. Those are really key elements in addressing these issues. Now, for individuals who might be currently experiencing ageism or gender bias in the workplace, what advice would you give them to navigate these challenges and maintain their confidence and self-worth?

I would say first and foremost, believe in yourself. Believe in your abilities and your skills. And don't let anybody else define you or your worth. The second thing is, is don't be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. And that doesn't mean being aggressive or confrontational, but it means speaking up and letting people know that you are not going to be treated that way. Thirdly, surround yourself with positive and supportive people.

The fourth thing is to really take care of yourself. And I think that's something that we don't talk about enough is self-care. Finally, be open to change. Be open to new opportunities and new ways of doing things. And I think if you do all of those things, I think you can navigate through the challenges and come out on the other side stronger and more confident.

That's excellent advice. And I hope that those who are listening and who might be experiencing these challenges can take those words to heart because it's incredibly empowering to hear. Thank you, Nori, for sharing your insights and your wisdom on these important topics. Your book, "Keeping Your Seat at the Table," sounds like a valuable resource for anyone navigating the workplace, regardless of their age or gender. And I appreciate your time and your willingness to discuss these topics with me today.

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. It was a pleasure talking with you.

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