In the long-fought battle to achieve equal opportunities for women, opening the doors to men can be a powerful weapon

When I joined the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA), a decade ago, I felt a lot like the protagonist in Lost in the Ivy, the contemporary mystery I had published: lost and confused. It isn’t giving away any spoilers here then to tell you that I made some missteps as I tried to find my way. Not the least of which was the print-on-demand (POD) publishing company that I chose to publish my book following a series of heartbreaking setbacks and disappointments on the more traditional route.

Lesson No. 1: Never – repeat NEVER – make decisions, publishing or otherwise, out of frustration. Those decisions will almost certainly come back to kick you even harder than the reasons that led to that state of frustration.

As I set out to recover from my many stumbles and regain my footing, I found little support. At the time, many writing organizations in Chicago were not open to people like me. Many of them snubbed their noses at me just because I had published my book with a POD publisher. They didn’t even want to look at my book, no matter how many positive reviews it received or awards that it won. In their eyes, the one terribly bad choice I had made cemented their view: me and my book weren’t good enough for them.

Only two places opened their arms to me.

One was the Chicago Writers Association (CWA), which, at the time, was nothing more than a small Yahoo! group.

The other, strangely enough, was a woman’s press organization, the IWPA. If there had been a gender-neutral press organization or even an old-fashioned men’s press organization to join, I would have taken that route. But there wasn’t and the IWPA wasn’t closing its doors to me. So in I came.

That’s when I awkwardly told my mother, Roberta Richardson, who had a long and successful career in press relations, that I was joining the IWPA.

Her response, in her usual blunt fashion: “That’s nice, but why?”

I didn’t tell her that they were the only writing organization that accepted me. What I said instead is that if women want equal opportunities for career achievement, they should start from within. Women’s organizations had to welcome and support men as well, which IWPA had done by letting me join their club.

There were few other men when I joined IWPA and only a few more today. But I truly believe that they are on the right course by accepting men into their organization. The more people working for their cause – be it women or men or transgenders– the stronger they are as an organization.

I mentioned that the other group that accepted me was the CWA. In 2006, a year after I joined, a small group of us decided to organize as a nonprofit. I had no sights on leading that charge but the woman who had started it as a Yahoo! group in 2003, Diana Laskaris, an attorney, like me, told me that this vision was mine and not hers.

Lesson No. 2: Believe in what others see in you. Honestly, I didn’t know I had a vision but now, over a decade later, I still serve as president of CWA, which has grown to more than 600 dues-paying members and over 3,000 Facebook group members. In that time, I have dedicated myself to supporting the dreams and goals of writers, both men and women. I truly believe that our success has come through inclusion as opposed to exclusion. We all work better when we work together.

Lesson No. 3: Work hard for what you believe in. You won’t always win. But when you do, it sure feels good. As it did when the IWPA’s national organization, the National Federation of Press Women, chose me as their 2017 Communicator of Achievement, the first male in 60 years to receive the organization’s highest honor, bestowed to those members who have distinguished themselves within and beyond their profession.

And to think, this journey all started with a bad decision.

Lesson No 4: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In 2014, after I was finally able to set myself free from that bad contract I had signed with a POD publisher, I republished a revised edition of Lost in the Ivy with a much better publisher, the same one that published my second novel, Cheeseland and, in 2017, reached out to me for the book I’m working on now with a fellow IWPA and CWA member.

Lemonade never tasted so good.