HELENA — Wednesday is Women’s Equality Day, a day celebrating the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex.
In downtown Helena, the Equal Work Task Force was joined by Governor Bullock and Lieutenant Governor Cooney to celebrate the occasion at the Women’s Mural.
“This is an opportunity to celebrate our history in Montana of blazing the path forward for [the 19th Amendment]", said Task Force Co-Chair and Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice.
Montana was one of a handful of states that gave many women the right to vote, and even elected a woman to Congress before the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified.
Montana was also the first state to pass an equal pay law in 1919.
On Wednesday, Governor Bullock renewed his equal pay executive order and extended the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force through 2022 to continue its work to narrow the wage gap.
“Every person in Montana has a stake in ensuring women and men are paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” Bullock said. “The actions and advocacy of the Task Force continue to move the needle toward progress and an economy that works for all Montanans. It’s an honor to recognize Women’s Equality Day in Montana by extending the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force for the next two years. Just as Women’s Equality Day recognizes tremendous progress, we also know our work isn’t yet done.”
According to a study by Stanford University, there are a number of contributing factors to the wage gap between the male and female populations in the United States.
Choice of occupation, work experience, education and unconscious gender bias all play a role in the discrepancy.
Jen Euell with the task force, and director of the Women's Foundation of Montana, says the pay gap is a systemic issue that’s affected generations.
“When you’re talking about equal pay you’re not talking about one behavior or one person, you’re talking about something that is literally in the water,” said Euell. “So what we know is there are ways that we can start to chip away at the pay gap, but it’s going to take a long time before we’re able to address all of the deep roots.”
When the Governor’s Equal Work Task Force began its work in 2013, Montana women made around 32 percent less than men. In 2020, that gap has narrowed to 27 percent.
Organizations having pay transparency can help ensure all employees are being paid their fair share.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that many jobs can be successfully done remotely when childcare isn’t available.
The State of Montana offers several tools online to help employees and businesses ensure there is equal pay for their employees.