Why Hillary Clinton's loss is turning out to be good for women in politics

Hillary Clinton failed to break the highest glass ceiling in politics when she lost the U.S. presidency to Donald Trump. But the tone and result of the 2016 election has motivated a surprising number of women to express an interest in running for office, giving Clinton's supporters a silver lining.

2016 election result has sparked an interest in running for office among women

A girl in the audience holds a figurine of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as Clinton speaks at a rally in Akron, Ohio, Oct. 3. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

When Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech the day after the Nov. 8 election, she acknowledged that her loss to Donald Trump meant she would not become the first female U.S. president, that "highest and hardest glass ceiling," would not be shattered. Not this time, not by her.

"But some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now," Clinton said, addressing women specifically.

Clinton's loss to Trump was devastating to those who fought for, and thought finally there would be, a woman in the Oval Office. But they've found an unexpected silver lining in her defeat.

Women are showing an explosion of interest in getting into politics, according to organizations dedicated to that goal.

"Since Nov. 8, we have seen a huge uptick in the number of women wanting to run for office and reaching out to us for training," said A'shanti Gholar, political director of Emerge America, a group aimed at Democratic women.

Hillary Clinton supporters were devastated by her loss on Nov. 8, shown here at what was supposed to be a victory party in New York City. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Three hundred women signed up for a webinar called Getting Ready to Run after the election, and courses run by state-level affiliates are filled to capacity. Normally courses get 30 to 50 women.

An upcoming course in Virginia had 38 women signed up before the election, then it jumped to 88 afterward. The California branch has 122 women registered, and Oregon nearly doubled its numbers from last year, now up to 110 women.

'Punch in the gut'

The reasons for signing up are varied, Gholar and other activists say. Some women are motivated because they supported Clinton and are determined to see a female president. For others, it's their opposition to Trump that sparked their interest.

Gholar said she's consistently heard that women felt there was a lot of sexism during the election and they never want to see that again.

Hillary Clinton greets a girl at a rally in Illinois on July 13. Groups dedicated to getting women into politics thought if Clinton became the first female president it would inspire young girls, but her loss is also motivating women to run for office. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

"It's not who we are as a country, and we do not want this to become acceptable and mainstream," Gholar said. "And in order for this not to affect policy and future generations of women, women have to step up and run for office. You can't change policy without changing the policymakers."

When Gholar was asked how she felt about Clinton getting so close to making history as the first woman president, tears came to her eyes and her voice broke.

Sexism 'alive and well'

"I'm starting to cry because it's still hard," she said after a pause. "It's a punch in the gut that yet again a well-qualified woman lost to a mediocre man. That's the hardest part."

Looking to the bright side, however, Gholar said women are heeding Clinton's call to keep fighting and are following her lead.

Groups like hers expected a win by Clinton to be an inspiration to young girls and women but it turns out her loss is too, she acknowledged.

"I'm not going to lie, it seems that her losing that office has inspired women more," said Gholar.

Erin Vilardi, founder and chief executive of a non-partisan group called Vote Run Lead, said they've also been flooded by women with an interest in running for office.

Donald Trump's female supporters show their support at a rally in October in Ohio. They stood by him amid accusations that he kissed and groped women without consent. (Evan Vucci, File/Associated Press)

Their training course usually gets about 50 women but in the wake of the election, 1,100 women signed up — within a 48-hour period. They had to close the registration and create a wait-list. Donors immediately called to support them and social media traffic went "through the roof."

Vilardi said she thinks this election made women realize "sexism is alive and well" and that they have to get involved in politics to combat it.

"Some of us, more of us, who look like us, are going to actually have to run for office. The folks making our laws right now, it looks like 1950," she said.

Erin Loos Cutraro, co-founder and chief executive of She Should Run, also described this election as a turning point for getting more women into politics.

'Time for action is now'

"It is absolutely a cultural moment that no one could have anticipated," she said, adding that she's encouraged by how women have responded to the election results.

"This is what women do. We figure out ways to push through tough situations."

One of the organization's signature programs is called the She Should Run Incubator. It is a free, online program to help women prepare to run for office.

Courtney Peters-Manning is one of 4,600 women who have signed up for it. The attorney, who works at a private school in New Jersey, said running for office has always been in the back of her mind and that this election brought it to the front.

"It was a kick in the pants for me to realize that the time for action is now," the 39-year-old said in an interview. Peters-Manning found the campaign incredibly divisive and she wants to help Americans find the common ground she believes they have.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton cheer during a Women for Hillary event in New York on April 18. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

"I think women can be particularly good at finding that common ground, and after this election we need that more than ever," she said.

Yes, she's disappointed Clinton didn't break the glass ceiling, but now it's time to come together as a country, she said.

Chelsea Wilson is another young woman who plans to run for office in the coming years, and she volunteers with She Should Run. The 27-year-old, a member of the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma who currently lives in Washington, D.C., said the 2016 election was rife with sexism and misogyny. It prompted a sense of urgency among women, said Wilson, and now they are stepping up.

Wilson called Clinton's loss "heartbreaking," but said her concession speech the next day was "incredibly cathartic," in part because of the encouragement she offered for women to follow in her footsteps.

"I did feel like she was speaking specifically to me," said Wilson.

"I was so, so happy that she made that a huge part of her messaging, speaking directly to young girls, to women like me, to all women, that we can do this, that there is nobody better than us to step up and run," said Wilson.

"I was proud of her."


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.