I’ve been in the workforce since I was 15 years old.

My first job was for the (notoriously) most difficult accountant in town. I answered his phones. Assembled his tax returns. Typed some invoices. Basic stuff. We got along swimmingly. I’m not sure why, but we got along very well. Maybe because I did what I was told – even if he had his quirks about him. Ironically, I now work directly across the street from his office. He is now semi-retired, but he still stops by to see me every once in a while and has always treated me with respect and encouraged me in my education and career pursuits. And he maintains to this day that I was the only 15 year old he would have ever considered hiring full time.

Having started my work experience with someone like that has made me a different person professionally. I understand that there are difficult people in any work environment and try to adjust my attitude accordingly and simply vent it to my husband when I get home.

I worked in retail for a bit. Wouldn’t do it again if I didn’t have to. It was in this environment that the unfairness of the workforce, especially toward women, became evident. My first male boss in that environment tried to screw me out of promised benefits, the second one hired his family members and gave them preferential treatment and the 3rd sexually harassed me.

Those experiences toughened me up a lot. They made me realize that nobody was going to stand up for me except me and, cut-throat as it may sound, in the workforce, most of the time you have to look out for number 1. Because nobody else is going to do it for you, especially if you’re a woman.

I remember being interviewed for a job one time and being asked if I was planning to have any children. I know now (though I didn’t at the time – still young and rather naive) that this was a gross misstep on behalf of the interviewer and I could have called him out on it as none of his business and irrelevant to whether or not I was qualified for the job. But I can guarantee you that nobody asks men these kinds of questions. I realize that whether or not you have to take time off for maternity leave or be with sick children IS relevant to the time you can put into a job, but since when did it make us incapable of still DOING the work – even if we had to work odd hours to do it.

I’ve been very blessed in my current position to be able to be an on-hands mother and wife, see to family emergencies, go to school and still manage to get my work responsibilities taken care of because my boss and board members have been so flexible. And there are a lot of great places to work that don’t express the kinds of attitudes I’m talking about and offer great flexibility as well.

But I still see it. I still see “The Boys Club” in so many realms of my professional life. I still get called “sweetie” and “darlin” and left entirely out of conversations or ignored when I speak up at times. So I feel like to be a working woman is to have to fight. To fight for respect. To fight for position, promotion, and sometimes, to simply be heard.

I know women who do some of the most stressful jobs I can imagine while taking care of families too and they still make less than their male counterparts. Why? Because they’re stuck. Because they’ve been in a position so long and it works for their family situation and they’ve put in too much time to leave. And their employers know it. So they don’t compensate accordingly. Because they don’t have to.

I know it probably sounds like I’m bitter. But I’m not. I’m really, really not. I just don’t know why females have to prove themselves twice as hard. Have to compromise so much. Have to take what they can get.

Maybe I’m still naive. Maybe I’m more bitter than I thought. But I’m going to fight for respect in this part of my life. I know what I’m worth and I won’t settle for less.