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Bergman, Corbin: Investing in women is good for business and Michigan

Cheryl Bergman and Susan Corbin from The Detroit News

As we near the end of Women's History Month, it's important to reflect not just on the progress we've made but also on the challenges women continue to face every day in the workforce. These challenges are deeply personal and resonate with the daily struggles of countless women across Michigan who are working hard to provide for their families.

Michigan women who work full-time, year-round earn approximately 81 cents on the dollar compared to men who worked full-time. This gap in pay has a ripple effect on women and makes them more likely to experience poverty and more likely to work multiple, part-time jobs than men. In 2022, 14.6% of Michigan women were impoverished compared to 12.1% of men.

Unfortunately, the pay gap is only one of many challenges women face in obtaining education, making money, and holding steady jobs. And this burden of inequity isn't shared equally by all women. We know that women of color experience far greater challenges in the workforce than their peers.

The 2024 Michigan Women in the Workforce report provides a glimpse into gender inequity within the workforce, shedding light on the challenges women face across industries — and how gaps between men and women are felt even greater depending on race and ethnicity, age group and children.

We know women are equally as qualified, hardworking, dynamic, effective and smart as their male counterparts in the workforce, but they are continually being left out.

Women earn nearly 60% of all the degrees and certificates awarded in Michigan, yet we only account for 38.8% of degrees in STEM. When it comes to balancing parenting and working, we know women with kids under age five are less likely to participate in the workforce than men because the responsibility of caring for children tends to fall on women. And while more women are finding rewarding careers in the trades, only one in 10 active registered apprentices is a woman.

Women have also been slower to return to the workforce after the pandemic with lower labor force participation rates than men. In Michigan, women have a participation rate of 57.3%, nearly 10 percentage points below the rate of 67.2% for men.

Societal biases have created a world where women are forced to work twice as hard to earn half as much. It’s far past time we fix that. When women thrive, our families and our communities thrive. Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's leadership, organizations like ours across Michigan have worked together to prioritize investments that focus on uplifting women and strengthening our workforce.

Addressing these systemic barriers requires policy solutions that prioritize the needs of working women and families. By investing in initiatives like MI Tri-Share Child Care and paid family and medical leave programs, we can create a more supportive environment that enables women to thrive in the workplace and at home. The recently released, first-ever Statewide Workforce Plan also focuses on efforts to address inequality by addressing historic racial and gender inequities in income, educational achievement and access to opportunity.

Michigan is a national workforce leader. We serve more participants than any state in the Midwest and are number two in the Midwest for helping adults get jobs. But if women aren’t being treated equitably in the workforce, we still have a lot of work to do. By acknowledging these systemic barriers and committing to removing them, we can pave the way for great opportunities and economic empowerment for women across Michigan.

Cheryl Bergman is CEO of the Michigan Women’s Commission. Susan Corbin is director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.