By: Emily Werth, FellowPosted on August 4, 2014 Issues: Equal Pay & the Wage Gap Workplace Justice

There is both good news and bad news for women who work for the state of Montana.

Last week the state released the results of a pay equity audit [PDF] that was conducted by the executive branch of the state government – an in-depth analysis of pay practices to understand and identify possible solutions to gender-based pay disparities. The audit found that the female state government employees covered by the pay audit earned on average approximately 86 percent of what male state government employees earned.

On the more hopeful front – that is much better than the overall pay gap experienced by women in Montana when looking at both the public and private sectors. In 2012 the typical woman in Montana working full time, year round made just 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man for full-time, year-round work. The pay gap in public employment is often smaller than the overall pay gap, including because there is more transparency in the public sector about how pay is set, and because union membership – which is more common among public sector employees – tends to decrease the size of the gender pay gap.

But the pay audit also revealed a number of important areas of concern. For example:

  • Although women do tend to earn nearly as much as men for work in the same jobs, they are underrepresented in higher-paying state government jobs.
  • Women earn less than men on average from when they first enter the state government workforce until they retire – and the pay gap only gets worse with age.
  • More women than men working for the state government are underemployed relative to their level of educational attainment.
  • Men are much more likely to be supervisors and managers than women in the state government workforce – even though women and men make up about the same percentage of the workforce overall.

If one thing is clear from the fact that the gender pay gap has remained the same size for about a decade, it is that unequal pay is not something that is going to go away all on its own. Achieving pay equality will require lots of proactive efforts by both governments and employers. An employer’s self-evaluation of the kind that the state of Montana just conducted is one step in the right direction – but it is just a start. For example, employers should also make information about compensation and pay-setting practices more transparent so employees can figure out when they are not being paid fairly, and do something about it. And governments should pursue critical policy solutions like: strengthening laws that guarantee equal pay for equal work; preventing retaliation against employees that talk about their pay; raising the minimum wage and tipped minimum wage (since women are disproportionately represented at the bottom end of the pay scale); combatting the segregation of women in lower-pay occupations; and enabling women who are caregivers to balance their work and family responsibilities.

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