Women in Agriculture Taskforce: final report

The final report of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce.

2. Leadership

At present there are very few women in positions of leadership in Scottish agriculture. Cultural barriers are significant. Gender bias in the industry means that women are not expected to hold leadership positions and are unlikely to be successful in elections. This has led to women being reluctant to stand for leadership positions.


  • Key Scottish agricultural organisations and businesses must undertake diversity and unconscious bias training, to specifically support cultural change and address the imbalance in representation of women in their leadership groups.
  • Steps must be taken by the Scottish agricultural industry to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge of women to secure leadership roles in agricultural organisations, ensuring they are perceived as assets to the boards they sit on and the organisations they represent.
  • The Scottish Government will develop a Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP). This should be an accessible Programme that delivers training and mentoring to support women in agriculture to build their confidence, enhance their business skills and develop their leadership abilities. The Programme should be delivered through three specific but independent courses: personal development training, knowing your business, and leadership development. This should lead to a cohort of women ready to further develop their businesses or take up leadership roles in Scottish agriculture.

Specific Actions

  • The Scottish Government will develop, procure and pilot a WiADP which will include:
    • Piloting four “Be Your Best Self” courses across Scotland starting from December 2019. These should be funded by both the Scottish Government and course attendees. Between 14 and 20 women should attend each course.
    • Piloting one women in agriculture leadership development course starting from April 2020. This should be primarily funded by the Scottish Government with course attendees providing a contribution to the cost. There must be a competitive application process and the year-long course should be limited to up to 15 women. Funding advice and support should be provided to all applicants.
    • Piloting eight “Knowing your Business” courses across Scotland from April 2020. This should be co-funded by the Scottish Government, course attendees and relevant industry stakeholders. At least 15 women should attend each course.
  • To support the industry to start to address cultural change, the Scottish Government should part fund up to ten agricultural organisations to complete specific conscious and unconscious bias training by the end of March 2020. This pilot should be evaluated by the end of December 2020 and the findings shared with the industry to encourage change.
  • The Scottish Government should include diversity and unconscious bias training for relevant agricultural businesses within the Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture pilot.
  • Key agricultural organisations and businesses should review their recruitment processes to ensure they encourage all available talent to apply for posts. For example, they should train and support key people to carry out non-biased recruitment; advertise flexible working conditions; include specific reference to women when advertising posts; advertise through relevant women’s organisations; and actively encourage women to apply for vacant posts.
  • Agricultural organisations and large businesses should complete a skills audit prior to recruitment of staff, especially for executive posts.
  • By the end of 2021, the Scottish Government should review the impact of the Taskforce recommendations and actions. As part of this review, the effectiveness of the pilot courses should be assessed to enable the future funding of the courses to be secured from the Scottish Government and the agricultural industry.

Key Taskforce discussion and supporting research

The 2017 research found evidence of a lack of women in leadership positions in Scottish agriculture and a lack of confidence in the women interviewed. It also showed significant unconscious gender bias where women are not expected to be in leadership positions. Where women had acquired leadership experience, it was primarily through the Scottish Association of Young Farmer Clubs. Most respondents to the 2017 research survey stated that they would like to see more women involved in leadership of farming organisations and about a third of respondents were interested in becoming more involved in leadership themselves. Accordingly, there are a substantial number of women working in agriculture in Scotland who are interested in becoming involved in leadership of agricultural organisations. Yet, the 2017 research provided evidence of cultural barriers that currently exist: 18% of participants in the research identified that ‘not welcome by male leaders’ was a barrier to leadership.

"I think that women have almost accepted it to a certain level and what they actually do is they lead from behind, they accepted that they’re not going to be prominent and work in the background and (say)...when we get home we’ll sort things out!"
#Men focus group #1

Women also gave many examples of feeling intimidated or conspicuous at all male meetings; for example:

"… down in Berwickshire this year and I think out of an average attendance of 40 people there was myself and one other girl [laughter], if I was lucky she was there. And because it was Berwickshire I didn’t know many of the farmers and most of them obviously all knew each other and you instantly gravitate towards this other girl because...I don’t normally get intimidated and I’m quite used to being the only girl at a lot of meetings and think, this, that and the next thing." #New Entrant focus group #1

The Taskforce considered whether leadership training for women should be provided in a women-only environment. Information and views were gathered from providers of leadership training for women in Canada, New Zealand and Scotland, which helped us to understand that training is not just about leadership in the traditional sense, but also needs to help women to realise their potential.

Having considered what current leadership training is available for women, the Taskforce have decided there is a need for a specific programme to develop the skills of women in agriculture. There will also be an important role for industry to take the lead and deliver cultural change through practical action. Accordingly, we have recommended a number of different actions for the industry, underpinned by increasing their understanding of the issue of unconscious bias, to support real cultural change. An increased number of women in leadership positions is expected within five years but at that point, if success is not evident, other measures such as quotas should be considered by the Scottish Government.


Email: womeninagriculture@gov.scot

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