State Moves Women’s Commission to LEO to Help Address Economic Issues

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

On the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a move she believes strengthens the state’s ability to address women’s economic issues.

Whitmer announced in a video statement that the Michigan Women’s Commission (MWC) will move from the Department of Civil Rights to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

Placing the commission in LEO will enhance the capacity of both entities to address the economic issues Michigan women face every day, she said in a statement.

“From day one of my administration, I have made a commitment to building a stronger, more equitable state. And we can’t call Michigan a home for opportunity unless Michigan women are afforded the same opportunities to be successful,” Whitmer said. “After speaking with women across the state, it’s clear that the economic issues we face, including pay equity, available and affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and the need for more women in leadership roles, can best be addressed by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the Michigan Women’s Commission working directly together.

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“When this group of leaders collaborates, we can help ensure women across Michigan are treated with the same dignity and respect as their male counterparts, no matter their race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation,” Whitmer added.   

During a series of conversations facilitated by the Michigan Women’s Commission across the state, the women of Michigan expressed directly to Whitmer that economic security is the biggest barrier to achieving gender equity.

From these conversations the commission outlined their 2020-21 priorities which will work to achieve economic security. To address these goals, Michigan women overwhelmingly cite pay equity, available and affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and the need for more women—and a more diverse group of women—in leadership roles in government, business, academia, and nonprofits as priorities, Whitmer’s office said in a release.

They also highlight the need for more equitable and affordable access to the types of training and education that lead to better paying jobs. Across all conversations, Michigan women expressed the importance of centering the most marginalized communities and the most affected populations in every policy decision.

Cheryl Bergman, executive director of the Michigan Women’s Commission, said the commission “listened to these women” and is “proud to take this next step” with the LEO.

“Michigan women have told us time and time again that in order to achieve gender equity we need pay equity, affordable and accessible childcare, and more women in leadership,” said Cheryl Bergman, MWC Executive Director. “I am confident that by working together we can unlock opportunities, uplift women in leadership, address pay equity head on, and work hand in hand to move Michigan closer to gender equity.

LEO Director Jeff Donofrio called the move a “significant step forward” for both LEO and the commission.

“We are proud to work alongside these incredible leaders to deliver change that is seen and felt by women across the state,” Donofrio said. “Michigan women deserve action, and LEO will support the Commission to accomplish their priorities and achieve gender equity.” 

Whitmer has been committed to achieving gender equity for Michigan women since she was sworn into office. The first month in her administration, the governor signed an executive directive to ensure pay equity for state employees. The governor’s cabinet and executive office staff are also more than two-thirds women. In her state of the state address this year, the governor also highlighted the importance of ensuring a healthy pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care for all Michigan women who choose to have a baby. 

Under Executive Order 2020-171, the executive director of the commission will serve as the chief executive officer and provide executive direction and supervision of the commission’s activities. The governor will also designate a chairperson and a vice-chairperson of the commission from among its members.