Women-owned firms in Tennessee employ 121,100 people and contribute $23.5 billion to the state’s economy, according to a recent study.

The study, commissioned by American Express OPEN, in which leaders analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, also found that, nationally, the number of women-owned businesses has more than doubled-increasing by 54 percent-since 1997. 

Tennessee is ranked No. 17 in growth of women-owned firms in the past 15 years and No. 28 in growth of firm revenue between 1997 and 2012. 

In the past 15 years, the number of women-owned firms has grown by 56 percent, according to the study. 


“Even as women-owned firms continue to grow in number at rates exceeding the national average, enterprises at the $250,000 to $499,999 revenue mark are at a turning point in their development,” Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, said in a prepared statement. “In order to further advance and grow these businesses, new management tools must be implemented.”

In January, Nell Merlino, founder of Take Your Daughter to Work Day and CEO of a nonprofit that supports women in business, said one of the challenges for businesswomen comes from within. 

Yes, sexism exists, and she said that women are still lagging behind in terms of income and revenue for business, but sexism isn’t the main challenge for women, she said. 

“There are real barriers that women have in their heads,” she said.

Women need to think bigger, she said. 

Merlino is also the CEO of Count Me In, a nonprofit that supports women in business, and she said she sees too many women with a lack of vision or goals that are too small.

“Their vision is usually pretty limited,” Merlino said. “How do we get women to both value themselves and also put themselves in a marketplace to generate more revenue?”

But, according to the American Express study, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States is increasing at a rate 1.5 times faster than the national average between 1997 and 2012. 

The number of women-owned companies has risen by 200,000 within the past year, equivalent to just under 550 new women-owned firms per day.

Leaders also found that women-owned firms are just as likely as all firms to generate in excess of half a million dollars in revenues annually in two industries: construction, where 13 percent of women-owned firms and 11 percent of all construction firms are pulling in more than $500,000 per year; and in transportation and warehousing, where 6 percent of each is generating $500,000 or more in revenues. 

Women-owned firms are seeing more overall sector growth rates in seven of the 13 most populous industries: wholesale trade, finance and insurance, real estate, health care and social assistance, construction, and arts/entertainment/recreation, according to the study.