This year marks the momentous centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the United States. And while there have been many milestones and some hard-fought gains in the fight for equality over the last century, women are still facing significant economic challenges.

Women still need equal pay, available and affordable childcare and paid parental leave. An immediate emphasis needs to be placed on the state’s policy decisions to solve these important issues for all women in Michigan.

The Michigan Women’s Commission is hyper-focused on bringing these issues of inequality to light and creating solutions that unlock opportunities. We are constantly examining critical problems women are facing, their barriers to prosperity and how they can become more empowered to succeed.

That is why Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently announced that the Women’s Commission will now be housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). The department’s key mission is expanding economic opportunity for all Michiganders and is the perfect home for the Commission. We look forward to a close collaboration with the department in their efforts to safeguard women workers through workplace safety initiatives, and their coordination of the state’s workforce and economic development programs to give women equal opportunities to succeed.

The women of Michigan have said over and over that their economic security is the greatest barrier to achieving gender equity. To helps us achieve that, we need a more diverse group of women in leadership roles — representing us in government, business, academia and nonprofits. These are priorities that we earnestly need our leaders to work together on.

The most pressing concerns women face are linked to their economic capabilities and status. We can best serve them by aligning the functions and duties assigned to the Michigan Women’s Commission alongside and within LEO.

We, as a department and state, cannot effectively move forward and call Michigan a home for opportunity unless Michigan women are afforded these very same opportunities to be successful. We must recognize women as a critical, under-served population.

Together, we can come to the table with commission members — the collective voice of our state’s women — to have these important conversations. We can better understand the problems women face and how we can offer them a pathway to economic mobility and independence in this rapidly changing economy.

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We are excited for this important partnership, and see it as the first step in breaking down barriers in our state. During a year that has seen so many economic setbacks due to COVID-19, it has become even more crucial that we move these conversations to the top of our agenda.

The future success of our state depends on us tackling these issues head on. As we reflect on the vision of the suffrage movement all these years ago, we can be inspired by their message and bring this same passion and dedication to the table as we begin to dismantle obstacles.

Let us not waste time any longer: Unlock opportunities, uplift women in leadership, address pay equity head on and work hand in hand to move Michigan closer to gender equity.

Cheryl Bergman is executive director of the Michigan Women’s Commission.

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