Montana has one of the largest gaps in gender pay in the country.

An average woman working in the Treasure State earns 74 percent of a man’s salary, according to the Women’s Foundation of Montana, a nonprofit group that awards grants that benefit women and girls. Women nationally earn on average 77 percent of men.

That represents progress from the beginning of the equal pay movement — when women earned about half of what men made — but the gap “is still very significant,” said Pam Bucy, the Montana Commissioner of Labor and Industry, at the Bozeman Business and Professional Women’s Equal Pay Day event at the Baxter Hotel Tuesday evening.

“This is about who we are as people and our expectations for our lives and our partnerships and our families,” said Bucy, who delivered the event’s keynote speech. “What I am extremely worried about is stagnation and apathy. People don’t seem to notice or care, or even talk about it.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, intended to abolish wage disparity based on gender. The US Department of Labor says the average woman working full time is paid about 80 cents for every dollar earned by the average man working full time.

In Montana, the wage-earning gap is slightly wider. Women earn on average about $31,000, compared with about $42,000 for men, according to the Women’s Foundation of Montana. Women account for almost half the total labor force in the state, the group reported.

Many of the figures were both surprising and unsurprising to the roughly 20 or so people in attendance. Kathy Karjala, who does word processing work at a law firm, has held jobs where employees were discouraged from talking to one another about how much they made.

But she also considers herself something of an anomaly. Karjala was able to negotiate with her employer compensation based on what she produced, which has allowed Karjala flexible hours and better pay than if she worked for an hourly wage.

What took Karjala aback was when Bucy described the various court cases and lengths to which companies went to not pay women more.

“The part I think that most shocked me was these companies who tried, with lawsuits, to keep the status quo. That they actually were willing to go public and say, ‘We don’t want to pay the women more,’” Karjala said. “That was a shock to me, but I guess it shouldn’t have been.”

Jason Bacaj may be reached at jasonb@dailychronicle.com or 582-2635.

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