Jan. 22, 2021

UCalgary Political Science Congratulates: Meagan Cloutier!

Meagan’s award-winning proposal is entitled The Gendered Division of Labour in Constituency Offices: The Consequences for Women in Canadian Politics
Meagan Cloutier Killam
Meagan Cloutier Killam

UCalgary Political Science Congratulates: Meagan Cloutier!

2020 Killam Pre-Doctoral Laureate (first year)

The Izaak Walton Killam Doctoral Scholarship: In establishing this memorial to her late husband, Dorothy Johnston Killam’s purpose was “to help in the building of Canada’s future by encouraging advanced study… to increase the scientific and scholastic attainments of Canadians, to develop and expand the work of Canadian universities, and to promote sympathetic understanding between Canadians and the peoples of other countries.” It was her “desire that those selected to receive Scholarships shall be likely to contribute to the advancement of learning or to win distinction in a profession.” The Izaak Walton Killam Doctoral Scholarship is considered the University of Calgary’s pinnacle award.

Meagan Cloutier doctoral work is being conducted under the supervision of Dr. Melanee Thomas.


Dr. Melanee Thomas, what makes Meagan Cloutier’s proposed doctoral project stand out?

One of the things that impressed me most about Meagan’s work is that she’s taken questions that arise directly from her experience and turns them into a multifaceted research project. Before Meagan’s research, we honestly had very little understanding about how many political staff were women. We also didn’t have any representative data on the challenges they face, and how often they are presented with credible threats of violence, harassment, or harm. Meagan’s early work shows important insights, including that politicians in Canada often struggle with staff supervision. Similarly, while staff report that their top motivation is helping people, they also observed that constituents were more hostile and harassing towards staff who were women, and more deferential to staff who were men. 

While studying violence towards women in politics is a growing field, I don’t see many, beyond Meagan, studying how staff experience it. Through her work, she’s uncovered a great deal of cynicism about Canadian politicians’ and institutions’ willingness to meaningfully address these issues. That information is important for informing changes to public policy and political accountability. I’m really excited to see where her work goes next!

Meagan Cloutier

Meagan Cloutier, tell us how you came to be interested in this line of research?

When I was an undergraduate, I found my political science program did not include much information about on-the-ground politics. So, to broaden my experience, I volunteered in my local representative’s constituency office. It is located in a strip mall in Winnipeg, between a credit union and a Samosa café. In this typically Canadian place, I met a group of dedicated and talented constituency staff, who were overwhelmingly women. I wondered: why, when women are underrepresented in elected Canadian politics, are they overrepresented as staff in constituency offices?

In addition to this personal experience, I was also motivated to study Members’ of Parliament (MPs) staff because some MPs were appearing in the news more frequently, for negative reasons. Equal Voice, a non-profit that encourages more women to run for politics, hosted its first Daughter of the Vote event in March 2017, where each riding hosted a young woman aged 18–24 to sit in the MP’s seat. While heralded as a momentous move for young women in Canadian politics, Daughters of the Vote brought to light the sexual harassment occurring both on Parliament Hill and in constituency offices. Politics continues to be an unwelcoming and unsafe place for women.

The gendered patterns of employment I observed volunteering for two hours a week, when combined with these news reports about harassment, made me wonder how much more to the story there is working behind the scenes in Canadian politics.

Although you are at the early stages, what do you hope most to uncover through your dissertation?

In my Master’s thesis, I found that the majority of MPs’ employees are women. In my dissertation, I am hoping to understand the gendered division of labour of working for politicians, including what tasks are assigned to which employees and why. I am interested in understanding whether men benefit from working for MPs in ways that women do not, including whether staff view their employment as a pipeline profession for running for office. I also hope to understand how staff view the role of emotional labour in their work and how they aim to make constituents feel in their interaction with a politician’s office.

What are your next steps?

After I complete my candidacy requirements, I am going to interview political staffers to determine how they view their job and their contributions to political life. I initially wanted to job shadow in the constituency office, but during a pandemic, I will have to get creative with understanding how the pandemic has affected political staffers. I am also hoping to complete a comparative study in New Zealand to see if their parliamentary service (akin to the civil service) mitigates some of the negative aspects of working in politics like job security and dealing with harassment at work.

Congratulations to Meagan Cloutier on becoming a 2020 Killam Pre-doctoral Laureate (first year)!

Follow Meagan Cloutier on Twitter @meagancloutier

Follow Dr. Melanee Thomas on Twitter @MelaneeLThomas


To find out more about the paper prizes and past prize winners.