Women & Work - About This Project



The Tennessee Context

While global recession has hindered the economic strength of men and women alike, statewide statistics also point to it as a leveler between the genders. Emerging from years of upheaval and hardship, Tennesseans are left with an economy that is slightly more equitable. As of 2010, nearly 70 percent of all women ages 20-64 participate in the workforce – up from roughly 42 percent in 2000 – and of all workforce participants in that age range (essentially all full-time workers), roughly 47 percent are women. Pay equity has improved as well, with median earnings for women reaching 77 percent of the male median income in the state. Moreover, women are more likely to hold managerial roles than ever before, with 36 percent of these positions filled by a female.

The Good News

These numbers reflect the growing footprint and influence that women have on Tennessee’s economy as employees, employers and managers. This is not only good for women, but valuable for the state’s economy, because when women are at the table, the conversation changes for the better. Research has shown that companies with a female presence on their governing board outperform all-male competitors by anywhere from 4 to 26 percent. On an even larger scale, the World Economic Forum has discovered that nations with greater gender equity have more competitive, faster-growing economies. In the Tennessee economy, which regularly produces, sells or ships goods and services measuring over half of a trillion dollars annually, even a fractional increase in the competitiveness of local businesses can translate to billions.

The growth in female participation in the workforce is also valuable because women are shown to spend their income very responsibly; committing 90 percent of all wages on food, health, education, and their children's education.

The Challenge

There is still a tremendous amount of progress needed in workforce and pay equity. Even after a decade of relative gains, women continue to earn roughly three-quarters of what men earn, and while they comprise nearly half of the traditional workforce in Tennessee, women are disproportionately employed in low-paying industries and specializations such as hospitality and support services.

In addition to this employment segregation across industries, women are greatly underrepresented the further up the ladder one looks within an industry. Though an improvement since the turn of the century, women still hold only a third of the managerial positions in the state, and national estimates suggest that the rate drops to just 18 percent when senior leadership positions are considered. This harms women as a population, but it also minimizes that positive impact that studies show women have in the boardroom.

The resources made available on this website are one attempt to overcome this challenge and to foster greater economic strength and independence among women in Tennessee.