What would you do with $11,197? Pay a mortgage, rent, bills or student loans? Save for your child’s college tuition? Maybe you would use it for everyday items like groceries or child care?

The reality is that if you are an average full-time, year-round working woman in Montana you don’t see that money. As a result of the wage gap, full-time Montana women workers make an average annual salary of $32,293 compared to men’s $43,490.

These numbers are unacceptable, which is why Governor Steve Bullock created the Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force in 2013. He mobilized state leaders in business, labor, education, tribal nations, the public sector and nonprofit organizations. The governor created a powerful private-public partnership with a unified goal: close the wage gap in Montana.

Today highlights an important day in that mission. It’s National Equal Pay Day. On this day, we mark how far into the new year women would have to work just to make what men did in 2015. Sixty percent of Montana women are in the labor force. This yearly wage loss has a profound ripple effect across our families and our communities.

The Governor’s Equal Pay Task Force, with community supporters, has been resolute in its mission to examine the causes of the wage gap and take tangible steps to close it. Since its inception, the Task Force has focused its attention on wage negotiation trainings, understanding that women are less likely to negotiate wages and benefits than their male counterparts, because they are concerned about backlash when they do. The Task Force spearheaded wage negotiation trainings across the state and on college campuses, hosted two successful Equal Pay Summits and will host a third next month focused on women in business and policies and practices that impact fair pay.

Statewide, we continue to garner support for logical, common sense policies that support women workers in Montana. In 2015, the Governor’s Task Force recommended and helped pass House Bill 305 in the state Legislature. This law now provides unemployment insurance for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Thanks to this legislation, many Montana women are no longer forced to make the daunting and dangerous decision of choosing between their lives and their livelihoods.

As co-chairs of the Task Force, we have worked closely with Governor Bullock on fair pay and equality initiatives. The Department of Administration took direct action to prevent discrimination in state contracts by amending contract language to protect state and contract employees against discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The state has conducted its own pay audit and served as a resource for city governments as they start their own pay equity initiatives. State agencies have also engaged in focused educational outreach and training on topics such as mentoring, encouraging women in STEM fields, and wage and benefit negotiations.

As we continue to educate, empower and examine the fair pay landscape in Montana, the governor’s early words from 2013 about the Task Force continue to ring true: “It is imperative that young Montanans — the workforce of tomorrow — join Montana’s economy knowing that they’ll earn a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, regardless of their gender. We want our daughters and sons to stay in Montana and raise their own children here because Montana is a place they can prosper and be valued for their contribution to our state’s economy.”

As members of Governor Bullock’s cabinet, we are fortunate. We know we make the same as our male counterparts in the cabinet. Ours is a rare story. On this Equal Pay Day, we encourage you to join the mission of the Governor’s Equal Pay Task Force and become educated, involved and invested in fair pay. We encourage you to join us at Montana State University in Bozeman, for the 2016 Equal Pay Summit on May 2 and 3 as we work to close the wage gap for all Montanans.

Pam Bucy, commissioner of Department of Labor & Industry, and Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Administration, serve as co-chairs of the Governor’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force. Learn more about the Task Force and register for the May 2-3 Equal Pay Summit at www.equalpay.mt.gov.

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