Researchers urge agricultural industry to challenge barriers to women farmers

© James Hutton InstituteResearch by Newcastle University and the James Hutton Institute has found that women play a major role in Scottish agriculture, participating in the full range of farming activities. However, barriers remain to their entry into the industry, their career progression, and promotion to leadership roles.

These are some of the findings of research commissioned by the Scottish Government into the contribution of women to agriculture. The Women in Agriculture report was launched at the Royal Highland Show as part of the ‘Women in Agriculture Breakfast’, hosted by SRUC, with the participation of Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Speaking at the event, the First Minister said: “This government has always placed equality at the heart of all it does, and it is absolutely right that fairness extends to all sectors of Scottish society.

“This report is a welcome insight into Scotland’s agricultural sector. While the report recognises the hugely valuable role that women play in our farming sector, it also highlights some significant challenges that are holding women back from playing an equal and equitable role in agriculture. And these need to be addressed.”

The First Minister also announced a new group to ensure women are better represented in farming. The Women in Agriculture taskforce will consider issues such as better succession planning, more appropriate health and safety, better access to training and progression within the industry. It will be co-chaired by Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity and Joyce Campbell, a working farmer and entrepreneur based in North Sutherland.

“I am delighted to announce this taskforce to look in-depth at the report’s recommendations to ensure the potential of women in farming is realised to better represent the forward-facing, 21st century Scotland in which we live,” the First Minister said.

The report says women’s important contribution to the agricultural economy in Scotland should be recognised. The authors recommend that agricultural organisations operate a quota system in their leadership elections in order to achieve better representation for women and also call for the traditional inheritance practices of passing on farms to one son to be challenged.

As well as quotas in leadership elections, the researchers also recommend introducing mechanisms to enable progression from young farmers’ groups to more senior roles, the establishment of a talent bank of suitably-qualified women for farming positions and mechanisms to identify women mentors to support both male and female farm apprentices. In an online questionnaire, 18% of respondents identified ‘not welcome by existing male leaders’ as a barrier to their participation in leadership of farming organisations.

Professor Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy at Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy who led the research, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government, said: “The evidence is clear, showing that farming businesses rely heavily upon the contribution of women. But it is difficult for them to progress and the potential of new entrants is being curtailed. The industry is missing out on the talents of young women in particular”.

“Better training programmes that are more welcoming to women would help new entrants and enable more of them to fulfil their potential.  Better equipment and design of the farmyard, so that farm work does not depend on brawn, would not only help women but could make the industry safer for everyone.  Breaking down assumptions about inheritance would mean more equality and more open choices being made within farming families.”

“This new research report, published today, is the first to look into gender issues in Scottish agriculture, and identifies the challenges for and potential tools to improve women’s participation in farming and leadership of the agricultural sector in Scotland. In total, over 1300 women who live and work on farms were surveyed, and 30 interviews and 9 focus groups were conducted with men and women across Scotland.”

Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland, senior social researcher at the James Hutton Institute, explains: “Women represent a considerable untapped resource for farming organisations – some 35% of study participants indicated that they are interested in becoming involved in farming organisation leadership. The SAYFC (Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs) is providing important foundational experience for women – they are by far the most common organisation in which survey participants gained leadership experience.”

Article source: James Hutton Institute