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Working Together to Eliminate Montana’s Wage Gap

Equal Pay Day is April 2, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019/Categories: Equal Pay Taskforce

1919 Legislature

Tuesday, April 2, 2019, is Equal Pay Day—a nationally recognized day symbolizing how far into the year women must work to earn what a man earned in the previous year. The national gender wage gap is 20 percent, which means for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns just $0.80 for doing the same job. Some of this difference can be explained by the types of jobs worked predominantly by men and women, but research consistently shows a gender wage gap exists even after controlling for other factors.

Here in Montana, women experience a 27 percent wage gap and earn just $0.73 for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job. Montanans are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year, and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

The gender wage gap is a complex and multifaceted challenge, and we all have a role to play in eliminating Montana’s gap. Governor Steve Bullock launched the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force back in 2013 to face the challenge head on. Since then, we’ve taken incremental steps toward narrowing the gap, and have indeed seen tangible results.

When the task force started its work in 2013, women were earning 66.7 percent of the median earnings of their male co-workers. Today, that gap has narrowed to 73 percent. Nearly 300 businesses across the state have signed the Equal Pay Pledge, promising to strive for equity in their own hiring practices. And firms and local governments across the state are looking at their own data to identify inequities and erase them.

Still, there’s more work to do in narrowing Montana’s gender wage gap.

We need to encourage and support young girls in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These are traditionally male-dominated higher-paying career fields. Studies show that as early as age five, girls begin to lose confidence in their perceived ability to participate in STEM activities. We should be mindful about how we speak to and mentor young women. As the labor market demands more workers in STEM-related jobs, an increase of women in STEM will lead to economic growth and higher wages for all workers.

More employers must examine and improve their pay practices. Employers can get help examining their pay polices through equal pay self-audit guidelines from the US Department of Labor. Correcting pay disparities results in a more motivated and satisfied workforce, which can lower turnover rates. Employers should set pay ranges based on skills and experience, and not salary history. Women’s wages fuel businesses, the economy, and ensure the economic security of Montana’s families.

Montana became a leader 100 years ago when the 1919 Legislature passed the state’s equal pay law. Yet we know that law alone isn’t enough to close the pay gap. The 2019 Legislature has the opportunity to strengthen Montana’s equal pay law by approving the Paycheck Transparency Act. This bill simply allows employees to voluntarily discuss their pay without fear of retaliation. It would also encourage employers to set pay based on merit and market rates, and not on an employee’s wage history. Research shows that pay transparency increases overall job performance and worker productivity, which in turn benefits the employer.

Montana has the ability to be a leader in a pay equity and wouldn’t closing the gender wage gap be one of our state’s greatest accomplishments? Montanans cannot afford to wait any longer for equal pay for equal work.

  • Tara Rice, Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force Co-Chair + Director, Dept. of Commerce
  • Galen Hollenbaugh, Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force Co-Chair + Comissioner, Dept. of Labor and Industry



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