The Cohort: What I learned from talking to women who voted for Trump

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media. Editor's note: This version contains a graph that was inadvertently edited out of the newsletter.

Fifty-three percent of White women voted for Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent. Out of all the statistics that emerged from the presidential election, that’s the one I kept coming back to.

Throughout the campaign, many observers figured that women would overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton, especially as Trump’s misogynistic comments and women’s accusations against him started to pile up.

These assumptions were, of course, wrong. In the past week, a number of articles have been shared and written about the myth of female solidarity. Among the takeaways, White women are more likely to vote along party lines than any other factor. And, for the majority of White women voters, issues of culture and class are more important than gender.

A few days after the election, I reached out to (White) female friends who voted for Trump to ask about their decision. Many were high school classmates, one an old coworker, another an acquaintance — all women I’m still in touch with thanks to Facebook.

I didn’t reach out to push my views. I reached out to listen and try to make sense of why my assumptions about female solidarity were so wrong.

Not surprisingly, all six women said that they voted on issues (specifically, abortion and the economy) rather than along gender lines. A handful said they were happier to see Clinton lose than they were to see Trump win. And as for Trump’s comments about women? Nearly all of the ladies I spoke to said his words didn’t upset them, at least not enough to sway their vote.

“His words on women do not bother me whatsoever. I’ve said worse about people in my day, as I'm sure others have,” said one woman. “I let things roll off my back, so some of the things Trump said didn't bother me,” offered another.

I’m still making sense of the election and what that 53 percent statistic tells us. African-American and Latina women supported Clinton in droves; women of color know what it is to be disenfranchised. For White women, it might be easier to ignore instances of misogyny and sexism than to acknowledge that, as women, we’re marginalized, too.

Although my initial reaction was to be surprised and dismayed by the lack of gender alliance among female Trump voters, it would be naive to distance myself, to say “not all White women.” There are plenty of instances I can recall where gender didn’t unite me and my female colleagues in the workplace. Why would I think that would unite us at the polling place?

Countless women have gotten ahead at work by playing the rules of the boys’ club and, as a result, they’ve left other women behind. And why shouldn’t they? When it’s proven that women are punished for promoting other women in the workplace, what’s in it for us?

There’s a distinct difference between blind solidarity and thoughtful solidarity. Of course, you shouldn’t vote for a candidate simply because she’s a woman. But it is imperative for women to back candidates and issues that benefit us as a whole.

Last week was a wake-up call. Among the many lessons from this election, it’s clear we need to work on strengthening the bonds among our female colleagues. Just like Clinton’s campaign couldn’t count of the support of all women, we can’t (and shouldn’t) assume support within the workplace just because we share the same gender.

Perhaps the biggest lesson, though, is that women haven’t been fully listening to each other. Election Day was a massive reminder that women can’t make significant progress without the support and understanding of other women.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, now more than ever, and listening is a good place to start.


Do you work in a family-friendly newsroom?
A few months ago, Rebecca Ruiz reached out to me with a fantastic idea: What if we surveyed journalists and asked about family-friendly policies in their workplaces? What would we learn?

We’re thrilled to share that survey with you today. Please fill it out and spread it amongst your colleagues. You can stay anonymous, and whether you’re a woman or man, parent or nonparent, we’re interested in your responses. Also, take some time to read the beautiful intro essay from Ruiz, on why this topic matters so much to her.

Mark your calendars
Applications for Poynter’s 2017 Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media are open through November 30. That means this is the last reminder you’ll get in a Cohort newsletter! I can’t say enough how wonderful this program is. Apply. If you needed one more reason, we just added Tracy Grant, Deputy Managing Editor at The Washington Post, to the faculty.

Things worth reading
For now, the “highest and hardest” glass ceiling is still intact. Here’s what a female Asian fact-checker faced during the election; bravo to Michelle Ye Hee Lee for sharing her story. Kudos to the wonderful Kat Kinsman, whose book “Hi, Anxiety” published this week. Want a sneak peek? This interview with Kinsman about her experience as a dominatrix is a fun read. And speaking of anxiety, now seems like a good time to revisit this TED playlist of talks about the importance of self-care or follow the magical @tinycarebot.

Remembering Gwen
What the hell, 2016.

Instead of a profile this week, let’s instead use this space to remember pioneering journalist Gwen Ifill, who passed away at 61 on Monday. Several women shared their memories of working with her.

Liz Kelly Nelson, Senior Director, Audience Engagement Strategy, USA Today Network: Early in my career in the early 2000s, I produced live text-based discussions for’s Live Online channel. Gwen Ifill was one of our regulars. I produced a monthly chat with her in which she answered questions from “Washington Week” fans. Gwen was a busy woman so, of course, she didn’t type for herself. Instead, I would sit with a headset and take dictation from her for an hour each month. She was never what I would describe as effusive or casually conversational with me, her producer. She took that web chat, which was the least important thing on her calendar, as seriously as she did her show and every other piece of journalism she produced. It was an honor, and so instructional for the baby journalist I was, to spend time with a true professional, a true journalist. She taught me to approach every job, no matter how big or small, with passion, rigor and dedication. She will be missed.

Cassie Chew, freelance writer and video producer: Tasked to the digital side of the operation during my year on the PBS NewsHour politics team, I never became part of Gwen’s regular circle of producers. Even though I learned we were both fond of Sting, we never became besties or even met for a one-on-one lunch. But it was always a thrill to walk by her office and exchange hellos and small talk.

In many of the previous newsrooms I’d worked, Black and Brown women were more often members of the support staff or the cleaning staff — rarely, the editorial staff. So it was an honor and a treat to work for Gwen, a crossover media professional like myself, and entertain the idea that with hard work and a little good fortune, I someday might achieve a similar measure of success.

Samantha-Jo Roth, Washington Correspondent at Gray Television: The summer before my senior year of college, I was an intern specifically assigned to work on the show “Washington Week.” I always looked forward to planning meetings that would happen inside Gwen’s office every week. When it was my turn to present my ideas, she would listen intently and would give feedback. When she addressed me, I remember feeling like the most important person in the room, even as an unpaid intern. Every Friday, I would sit inside the control room with the staff and watch Gwen moderate the show with a panel of distinguished reporters. I admired her wit, her knowledge and her positive energy.  I remember how she’d joke with the producers in the control room during the commercial breaks. It was an honor and a privilege getting to know her for those short three months. Her encouragement left a lasting impression on me and inspired me to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington.

Tara Jeffries, Reporter, Morning Consult: I got my first real job in journalism at the PBS NewsHour in December 2015. I was a desk assistant, performing a mix of administrative and production-related duties. When I started, one of my duties was ordering Gwen Ifill's lunch. (As I recall, she liked the creamy tomato soup at Luna Grill, near our studio in Shirlington, Va.) Toward the end of my tenure, I would sometimes meet with her and the politics production team on segments about the election and other topics. In that wide range of duties, Gwen stood out as a bright and kind soul as well as a pioneering journalist. She always remembered my name amid a never-ending revolving door of interns and temporary staff.

I remember being intimidated meeting with her, but her sharp sense of humor and easygoing smile put me at ease. Her first day back from temporary leave was my last day at the NewsHour, a place where I learned to be a thoroughly balanced, constantly inquisitive journalist and really found my footing in Washington.

I worked at the studio while Gwen was co-moderating the Democratic primary debate with Judy Woodruff, and remember being so proud to tell friends why I was working into the night that day. I can't imagine a journalist who is more sorely needed and missed in this political cycle, in this city, and in this world.

Kainaz Amaria, Director, Storytelling Design at Vox Media, Inc: In 2013, I had the opportunity to meet and speak alongside two of the best — Gwen Ifill and Michel Du Cille, both gone too soon.

I spent three hours with Gwen in a mini van on the drive from the airport to Ohio University's campus. I was so nervous getting into the car, because it was GWEN IFILL. What do you say? How do you not sound silly? Do you sit next to her, or give her the entire row? She deserves the entire row!

I had just moved back to the U.S. after spending two years in India. My career had barely begun, she was already a legend. She was so kind and generous with her experiences as a journalist. We talked about the racism she faced early on in her career (and throughout), about how she approaches moderating debates and about why she loved the WORK. We laughed, debated, sat together during long pauses.

She is irreplaceable. I wish I had asked more questions.

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The Cohort is part of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare, who knows the value of an afternoon spent coloring and drinking wine, for her newsletter edits and insight.

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    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is Poynter's digital innovation faculty member. She runs the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media and is one half of the duo behind 40 Better Hours, a project to improve the workweek.


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