Women in agriculture - implementing equality commitments: research report

Main findings from an evidence review and case-study research carried out to explore effective ways of bringing about greater gender equality within Scottish agricultural businesses. The research was designed to gather evidence on gender equality initiatives and their effectiveness within business of different sizes in male-dominated industries.

Appendix 1: Research Design

To address the research aims and objectives a flexible methodological approach was required. The research combined the development of a desk-based evidential approach and empirical case studies of six UK-based organisations in male-dominated industries.

Evidence review

In November 2021 we conducted a comprehensive robust evidence-led overview of the gender equality literature and recent sources for and evidence of interventions. We carried out a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) with the search limited to peer-reviewed academic publications in English and readily accessible online. As part of the process we utilised the PICO research framework outlined in Table 2. It made practical sense to focus primarily on UK-based studies since this provides a consistent context on issues such as the legal basis for equalities, however studies from other regions were also included in order to gain an overall understanding of the topics in question. Initial searches were focused on articles from 2010 onwards to incorporate the most relevant critical reviews, however subsequent searches found some key contributions made in the area before 2010. Qualitative and quantitative studies were included as were original research studies and meta-analyses.

When considering the research included in this review, it was apparent that there are limitations in the research base, both in the quantity and quality of evidence. Many of the studies included in this review are qualitative in nature and while this is not a criticism in itself, it would be valuable to have more quantitative studies to draw on. In particular, it was difficult to find quantitative studies which evaluated specific initiatives, especially those in male-dominated sectors comparable to agriculture as well as evidence of research examining this issue in small and medium sized organisations (SMEs).

Table 2: Rapid Evidence Review
Control (context)
Outcome Context
Female workers
Organisational interventions to improve female progression
All relevant
Barriers/facilitators of progression Workplace
Search Terms
Population Gender OR women OR woman OR female OR sex
Impact Intervention OR “organisation* polic*” OR mentor* OR flex* OR “work life” or “family friendly” or “work-life” or “family-friendly” or training or target* OR initiative OR practice OR diversity
Control Barrier* OR inhibit* OR bias OR inequality OR sexism OR “Gender imbalance” OR “sex imbalance” OR “sex inequal*” OR “gender inequal*” OR “sex equal*” “gender equal*” OR stereotype
Outcome Progression or development OR trajecto* OR leader* OR advancement OR promotion OR pay OR success OR “gender gap” OR “gender divide” OR “vertical segregation” OR “glass ceiling” OR “glass labyrinth” OR “glass cliff” OR “mummy track” OR “parent track” OR “sticky floor” OR “occupational mobility” OR “gender differentiation” OR “occupational achievement” OR “sex differentiation” OR “career opportunities” OR hierarch*
Context Career OR workplace OR job OR employment
Boolean Operators (All in Title or Abstract) Population AND Impact AND Control AND Outcome AND context
Geography None
Language English
Time 2010-2021
Databases Potentially: Proquest’s Social Science Premium Collection, EBSCOhost Business Source, Psycinfo and the Web of Science core collection. A pragmatic approach would be taken in terms of selecting studies to include within this period, given the time scale. Our sampling strategy is based on conceptual and sectoral saturation. That is, if we have included 5 studies on a particular sector and the findings are broadly similar, we may then omit previous studies of the same sector, but will continue to read studies of previously uncovered sectors.
Additional Comments
  Search supplemented by ‘pearl-growing technique’, including following up on the references of key texts, and papers subsequently referencing them.

Case Studies

The second stage comprised short case studies of six UK-based organisations in male dominated industries. Case study methods are helpful in understanding the process, practice and the efficacy of gender equality initiatives and can offer genuine insight through analysing rich data from multiple sources in ‘micro’ organisational settings. Whilst this research aimed to address the knowledge gap about the effectiveness of gender equality actions and commitments, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate that short-term case study approaches will have some limitations on access to information and data available.

The case study methods blended a range of pro-forma (for example, organisational profile characteristics, workforce demographics, functional profiles, recruitment criteria) and qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews).

Case Study Design

The initial case study design incorporated 4-6 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in male-dominated sectors with the aim of gathering evidence from the following sectors: construction; fisheries and aquaculture and; transport & storage and also ensuring an equal mix of small (10-49 employees) and medium sized (50-249 employees) enterprises. It was also important to include small to medium sized organisations which have the structures and budget to implement changes.

We used a number of channels to recruit potential case study organisations across the UK. These included an Internet search, social media (LinkedIn and Twitter) and our professional networks which included the CIPD, Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, Scottish Business Pledge, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, Business in the Community and trade unions. In addition to this we reached out to equality and diversity organisations such as the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion to distribute information about our research to their members. It also proved useful to find potential organisations that had signed up to pledges and equality charters across a range of male-dominated sectors such as construction, engineering, nuclear and rail.

During our search there were challenges accessing or finding companies that fit with the case study design so we broadened our search to include other male-dominated sectors such as energy, waste management and the automotive industry. After an initial focus on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), a shortage of accessible examples led to the inclusion of firms with up to 1000 employees.

Stakeholder in-depth interviews

Case studies capture perspectives of different stakeholders so a multi-respondent design was conducted. We aimed to obtain a representative range of views on the implementation and evaluation of gender equality commitments and initiatives within each case study where possible. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 36 key stakeholders who were either involved in implementing equality commitments (for example senior management and human resource managers) or could evaluate the effectiveness of equality commitments as a woman working in the organisation, predominantly in traditionally male-dominated occupations. A participant information sheet and consent form were shared prior to interview (see Appendix 2).

The fieldwork was shaped by the public health regulations arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and due to ongoing restrictions on face-to-face research we conducted interviews online via Microsoft Teams. As well as avoiding potential negative health impacts associated with the pandemic, this method also minimises the ‘research burden’ and offered greater flexibility to potential research participants.

Interview guides (see Appendix 3) included questions that were informed by the evidence review and Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) researchers’ prior knowledge of evidence relating to the topics under investigation. Some additional questions were taken from evidence in the public domain that related to women working in male-dominated occupations and sectors.

Interviews took place between February and June 2022 and lasted between 20 and 50 minutes. All interviews were digitally recorded (where consent was given) and the transcript produced through Microsoft Teams was checked for accuracy by the researcher who conducted the interview. A thematic analysis was undertaken – guided by the research objectives, the interview guides plus any key themes that emerged from the research.

Engaging with a range of individuals covered in this research allows for multiple issues to emerge and ensures that no single stakeholder view dominates the analysis. The data allowed for a wide-ranging assessment of the views from different groups on the implementation and impact of gender equality initiatives.

Company data and documents

In addition to the interviews we also reviewed company documents, policies and accessible adminstrative data where this information was available, alongside any relevant information on their gender equality initiatives available in the public domain.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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