How Nonfiction Books Build Conversations, Connections, and Community

I’m a law professor by day. For the past twenty years, I’ve used my research and writing to advocate for advancing women’s workplace equality and work/family integration. I’ve gained an understanding of the barriers to women’s career advancement, and I’ve become an expert on legal and policy reforms like paid family and sick leave, gender pay equity, and workplace flexibility.

Yet I slowly recognized that my platform wasn’t actually connecting me with the people I needed to engage with the most. I found myself regularly surrounded by other law professors, lawyers, and legal policymakers, and I found myself having conversations almost exclusively with other women. This was comforting, familiar, and deeply validating. But there was only so much I could learn—and only so much progress I could make—with a community comprised of folks who largely think like me and share my life experiences.

I realized that making meaningful progress toward gender equity required more than just external reforms or women pushing boundaries. Meaningful progress required male allyship for change. Men still hold the majority of corporate leadership positions, so I needed to engage with male business leaders who set workplace culture and practice. And fathers still perform less than half of household and caregiving responsibilities, so I needed to engage with dads who are also juggling work and family obligations. In short, I needed to connect with men.

Building male allyship for gender equity requires understanding men’s narratives and lived experiences. Why don’t many men speak up against gender bias? Why do male business leaders hesitate to mentor women colleagues? What barriers prevent some men from becoming co-equal parents? Why don’t men use their paternity leave when they have the chance? How can men be invited into the conversation to become problem-solving partners for advancing gender equity?

Launching these conversations and expanding my learning community were among my primary goals for writing my nonfiction book, Dads For Daughters. I began by interviewing men who had been inspired by their daughters to become outspoken gender equity advocates. It was a natural connection for me, as the mom of two teen girls. These interviews lead me to more conversations, data, and stories about what motivates men to support gender equity and what makes a successful male ally.

I shared what I had learned in my book in large part as an invitation to other men to join the discussion. For me, the result has been a tremendous learning opportunity—launching conversations, building new partnerships, and expanding my community connections.

The book itself was just the first step. After the book launch, I was invited to be a guest on several podcasts geared toward men. These opened doors for conversations with fathers’ groups, men’s mental health professionals, male experts on gender-based violence prevention, men who are redefining masculinity, and male leaders who are redesigning workplaces for working parents.

My favorite conversation was on a podcast, “Dads with Daughters,” in which we talked about fathers’ motivations, fears, and commitment to creating a more equitable world for our daughters to thrive. It was exactly the kind of conversation—and source of learning and partnership—that I had been missing in my day-to-day life as a law professor.

As a result of the podcast, I connected with a wonderful nonprofit called Fathering Together, which is building a community of engaged dads. One conversation lead to another, and I’m now a board member of the organization. We’ve launched an initiative called “Dads For Gender Equity,” and we’ve hosted a webinar series titled #StandUpDads, which explores how fathers can support gender equity in their homes, workplaces, and communities. All of this started from—and wouldn’t exist without—my decision to write a book.

So if you’re a nonfiction writer, I encourage you to take time to explicitly identify the conversations that you want your book to launch, the personal connections that you hope to make, and the more diverse communities that you seek to build. Then write your book with curiosity. Write with humility. Write with gratitude. And write as an invitation to engage those from whom you most want to learn.

[First Published on the San Francisco Writers Conference Blog]