That's how I felt all through my career as I moved from my first job slinging tickets for six dollars an hour to being the youngest person -- and too often the only woman -- in the boardroom.
But every workplace -- and specifically institutions like professional sports leagues and legacy franchises that have survived for generations -- includes some flawed human beings making very many decisions of highly variable quality. And even though we've made progress as a society in preventing the very worst and most obvious cases of discrimination, that does not mean every workplace has become a perfect meritocracy.
Conscious discrimination in hiring is, of course, against the law. But unconscious bias persists, cutting across industries and organizations, resulting in lower pay, fewer opportunities for career advancement and, in some cases, even a toxic work environment for many women and minorities.
Even more nuanced is the question of culture. Beyond the bright line of the law is a murky mix of moments, small and large, that can lead to people feeling excluded, singled out, or even harassed.
In sports, there's no shortage of women committed to the games they love, to the industry, and to their disciplines within it. But with men dominating the ranks, from ownership on down, and the resulting consequences in even unconscious bias and rigid cultural norms, some women will be forced to forge their career path elsewhere, in an industry with (relatively) fewer barriers and less hostility.
That has not been my path. But over time, it became clear that choices were being made -- at all levels of many organizations -- to pass over women who could have done a great job. Other choices were being made, too, by those women who'd been passed over, excluded or harassed to step aside and pursue a different version of the career they had once hoped to pursue.
To the industry, this is a loss. And it's important to be clear that this is not only a loss of fairness (though it obviously is) -- it's a loss of revenue, a loss of profit, a loss of innovation and a loss of progress for our professions.
In a sports industry where data and optimization is increasingly the name of the game on and off the field, bias and a lack of inclusiveness mean we're not fielding our best executive teams today. We're also failing the future by not developing some of our best prospects now.
So the question for men and women in sports, and really any industry, is: what will each of us do about it? A few suggestions:
Speak up and reach out: If something's happening to you, speak up about it, and reach out to others who might be able to help you. There are more of them than you think.
Hire more women and diversify your pipeline of candidates at every level: Think about your own unconscious biases. Do a lot of the people you've hired look like you? If so, chances are you've not fielded the best team. Take extra care to diversify the pipeline of candidates you're considering for a job, and to cultivate talent that might be at risk of being overlooked.
Get someone else's back: Even if you don't think you've ever faced discrimination or even an extra burden in your career, remember: no workplace is a perfect meritocracy. Be on the lookout for these dynamics, and get someone's back when they're having a tough time. It's not in your power to right every wrong, but it is your responsibility to be on the right side.
For my part, I've committed to be even more aware of the importance of doing these things. But after a quick rise as a driven and work-obsessed executive, seizing every higher-profile or more lucrative opportunity to make an impact, I've concluded that there's at least one more dimension that should be key to how women and men in any industry, but especially sports, decide their path forward.
And that is to use integrity as the measuring stick for your professional relationships.
For years, in every job, I've kept an old adage pinned above my desk: "I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have."
My firm belief, thanks to the outpouring of support I've received over the course of my career, is that the more you surround yourself with people of integrity, the more luck you will have -- and all that hard work will be far more worth it.