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.

4 Case Studies

This chapter presents the findings from the six individual case study companies, comprising one aquaculture company, one construction company and four engineering companies. The key findings are:

  • A strong business case was seen as the most important driver of action on gender equality.
  • A wide range of actions were adopted including on company values, culture and structure; recruitment and selection; flexible working; training, development and mentoring; career progression and improving the reputation of the industry through equalities actions.
  • Successful implementation required senior leadership commitment; clear accountability for equalities actions; engaging the workforce, especially women; developing training and communications around equalities issues and working with other supportive organisations.
  • Not all equalities actions are systematically monitored, with some being of recent origin, but reviewing equalities data was a feature in many of the businesses, as was feedback on the outcomes of monitoring.
  • Businesses faced a number of challenges in evaluating the impact and effectiveness of their equalities actions but could point to improvements in gender balance and to more equality-proofed processes.


The research findings are organised by individual case study company and include: one fisheries and aquaculture company (Case Study A), one construction company (Case Study B) and four engineering companies (Case Studies C to E).

The case studies are structured to provide:

  • a short overview of the company;
  • the drivers of gender equality actions;
  • the key actions that have been introduced (and any actions in the pipeline);
  • the implementation process;
  • evidence of monitoring and evaluating progress, and the impact and effectiveness of actions.

These businesses were mainly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in industries where women are under-represented in the workforce. They were all at different stages of their journeys towards gender equality. These short case studies allow each business to be looked at holistically in its approach to gender equality. Chapter 5 draws out broader lessons from across the case studies.

Case Study A

Sector: Aquaculture

Key Stats: 200 employees (49% men, 51% women) Leadership team (8 men, 2 women)

Overview: A company that does not focus on increasing gender equality specifically but rather aims to do the ‘right thing’ and ensure fairness for everyone and transparency in their approach.

Drivers of Action

  • Industry skills shortages exacerbated by EU exit and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • A values-driven business doing the right thing with actions linked to values.
  • Responding to high expectations of a major customer.

Key Actions

Recruitment: there are two recruitment panels with six members to reduce the possibility of bias and to increase fairness of decisions. One formal panel includes the line manager plus two other members of the organisation that will work directly with the individual. A second informal panel consists of three members who will not work directly with the new employee.

Reward and Recognition: a two-step process is followed for every decision to increase transparency and fairness. Line managers meet and discuss with their reportee, then a committee of line managers, members of the leadership team and a member of the HR team meet to discuss individual cases.

Parental leave: the business has recently reviewed and updated their maternity, paternity and adoption policies, including to deliver an increase in the amount paid to new mothers of £250 per week on top of statutory maternity pay. Parents are also permitted to take paid time off during working hours for antenatal care.

Work environment: some sites including staff areas (e.g. canteen) were refurbished 18 months ago, with others to follow. Key areas include separate restrooms for men and women to ensure their facilities meet women's needs. Changing areas and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provision all meet high standards. There is a plan to create more informal breakout spaces - quiet areas for a ‘coffee and chat’ where people feel more comfortable discussing personal issues.

In the pipeline

Menopause campaign and policy: Currently in development by the internal company forum in conjunction with line managers, this policy aims to reduce taboo and raise awareness. It will include extra time off for women at this stage in life.

Part-time/job sharing: previously only two types of contracts were available, working 20 or 40 hours a week; now more options are being considered to support the needs of the wider talent pool including women returning from maternity leave.

Flexible shift patterns: operational constraints when working with fresh produce saw shifts ‘set in stone’ but to address skills shortages these are now changing to a flexible shift system that gives people options to work in ways that suit them.


As a 100% employee-owned company, actions taken (both formal and informal) are often a direct result of suggestions from organisational members. Where this is not the case, employees are consulted in the decision-making process. Decisions are also tested against the values framework which ensures actions are in line with the overall ethos of the company. This approach appears to help the company ensure that new policies and initiatives land well.

Measuring and monitoring

  • The company keeps track of the gender balance in the whole organisation as well as in specific areas.
  • As a supplier to one of the leading supermarkets, the company has access to the ‘Better Jobs’ survey which is part of a broader ‘Better Jobs Programme’. This staff survey includes standard questions plus additional ones specific to the company.
  • A key element of the company’s approach is to ensure that all members of the organisation have a voice. In addition to the staff survey, there are three principal ways that individuals can raise issues or share ideas: monthly partnership council meetings, health and safety reporting forms (available to be filled in with a collection box in the canteen) and also a general suggestion scheme where ideas are then discussed at partnership council meetings.

Impact and effectiveness

  • The company see their current gender balance as illustrative of the effectiveness of their approach to creating an inclusive environment, with women choosing to join and remain in the workforce.
  • Research participants reported that the development of the recruitment process outlined earlier has increased fairness and is reducing potential gender bias.
  • Research participants shared examples of women now being able to progress more easily within the company, though it is noted that senior roles are still predominantly male.

Case Study B

Sector: Construction

Key Stats: 117 employees (16% women, 84% men) Leadership team (3 men, 2 women)

Overview: A family run business that is at the early stages of advancing gender equality. As the company has grown, more systems and processes have been introduced with a strong focus now on ‘core values’.

Drivers of Action

  • Difficulties in recruiting young people, EU exit and an ageing workforce have put a greater focus on recruitment.
  • The increasing importance of adding social value into tender submissions.

Key Actions

Education: Both male and female staff actively encourage primary and secondary schools to look at company projects and actively engage with girls in schools to promote the wide range of construction jobs. The Managing Director (male) has formed a community partnership with a Youth Zone. The company is becoming more involved with career fairs and invites interested individuals in for work experience.

Recruitment: there is a greater focus now on core values, looking for the right attitude and willingness to learn as opposed to just technical experience. This may be positive in attracting women into non-traditional jobs. They ran a ‘women in the industry’ social media campaign, showcasing women in the company in a range of job roles. Job adverts are placed on LinkedIn and Facebook to attract a more diverse workforce, using more gender-neutral language. Job vacancies are shared internally and external job adverts include a photo of the female workforce.

Flexible working: there is no formal policy with flexible working agreed on an individual basis with a line manager. Opportunities to work flexibly are actively promoted to all employees at recruitment and induction, with plans to also promote flexible working opportunities on their website. They accommodate employees with childcare responsibilities by changing working patterns such as late start/early finish, job-share and offering part-time work following maternity leave. IT systems now enable working from home (WFH).


  • The business’s approach is driven by the leadership team and the Business Development and Marketing team who engage with the community and schools.
  • In 2021, the company introduced an Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) [2]with a focus on accountability and having ‘the right people in the right seats’. This approach adds more structure to the employee lifecycle with an accountability chart, career path and visible job ladders.

Measuring and monitoring

The company collects personal data at the recruitment stage. Employee personal data is logged on Sage[3] software but there is no formal process of monitoring or using workforce data to identify issues, patterns or trends. There are plans to start using employee data more strategically to inform business decisions.

Feedback is done through yearly performance appraisals, conducted in a more consistent way since the introduction of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). The company runs an annual staff survey and has recently introduced quarterly conversations. They offer a feedback email address and the Managing Director has an open-door policy.

Impact and effectiveness

  • Employee research participants recognise that the company is moving in the right direction in terms of attracting more women into the company. In recent years the company has recruited several women into more traditional male-dominated occupations, such as joiners, a CAD technician, a wagon driver, welder/fabricator and quantity surveyors. Two women were also recruited into the leadership team (Head of Marketing & Business Development and Head of Finance).
  • Employee research participants report positively about their experiences of managing work-life balance, career development and promotion opportunities. Although flexible working was perceived to be effective, participants recognise that this is particularly challenging for site-based work.
  • Some of the workforce are more engaged in the equalities agenda than others because they recognise the importance of having a more diverse workforce (for example the leadership team and business development team) or it is important for their role, i.e. bid coordinators.
  • As a smaller business, there are time constraints for employees to participate in driving the equalities agenda.
  • Engagement with the education system is seen as effective in promoting work in the industry, however, it is difficult to measure impact and whether people then enter the industry. Applicants are asked how they heard about an advertised job and feedback is requested after school events and career fairs but this information is not systematically monitored.

Case Study C

Sector: Engineering

Key Stats: 500 employees (77% men, 23% women) 6 Board members (all men) Divisional Directors (4 men, 2 women)

Overview: An engineering company which specialises in secondment.[4] The company’s approach to enhance gender equality (and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion overall) is to treat everyone equally and avoid singling out individuals/groups.

Driver of Action

The main driver of action is the skills shortage in the engineering sector. The company is keen to stay up-to-date with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) developments to ensure that they appeal to the widest talent pool possible.

Key Actions

Have set up a Diversity and Inclusion team: members of this team each focus on a key area of the agenda. Team members attend events (online and in person) and any training that is available in order to stay on top of developments in best practice and then put this into action in the company.

Policy Review: the in-house Diversity and Inclusion team examined all written policies, procedures, job adverts and training to remove all gendered language.

Recruitment: CV blind selection process where only qualifications and chartership status are visible to decision makers. New managers that are responsible for recruitment are provided with a stand-alone policy on recruitment. Job adverts have been updated to promote fairness across the board.

Merit-based promotion: a system that encourages fairness but does not favour women (or any other group).

STEM Ambassadors: women are offered a set amount of company time to be part of the UK wide STEM Ambassador programme[5] to educate young people about the industry. This also contributes to social value in the business.

Company Rebrand: new values and behaviours (for example Dignity and Respect) and updated their website. The objective is to be more people-focused and aware of the employer brand, particularly for potential employees.


The company works hard to ensure that every staff member is treated equally and avoid any policies or initiatives that are only available to women. This approach is greatly valued by women at the company.

Changes to policies such as updating and removing gender biased language in company documents or making changes to the recruitment process are reported to have been seamlessly worked on in the background and then well communicated to managers.

Measuring and monitoring

The company runs an employee engagement survey. This is viewed as being particularly important given the secondment business model because employees are placed in client organisations. The survey asks about priorities and also how people feel they are being treated in the companies they are seconded to, including if they feel they are been treated equally.

Impact and effectiveness

  • Much of the targeted work that the company has done (for example changes to job adverts and updating its website) has happened too recently to measure impact. However, research participants were strong advocates for the company’s overall approach.
  • Research participants reported having experienced no resistance from organisational members to any equalities action that has changed or implemented and they believe that the company’s subtle, inclusive approach is the reason for the positive response.
  • The number of women in the company (23%) is considerably higher than the percentage of women in the sector more broadly (16.5%).
  • Some research participants shared their frustration at being viewed as the ‘token female’ in previous employment, for example, being used on promotion material. They all agreed that this company’s indirect approach based on equality for all is effective.
  • Merit-based promotion is greatly appreciated by research participants. However, some concerns were raised regarding the potential for women to be inadvertently discriminated against due to time disparity (the challenge of women potentially having less time available to devote to their careers than men due to having household and caring responsibilities).

Case Study D

Sector: Engineering

Key Stats: 85 employees (44% women, 56% men) Senior Management Team (8 men, 6 women)

Overview: A specialist geotechnical and geo-environmental consultancy. The company has always maintained a near even gender balance since the business started.

Drivers of Action

  • A focus on retention to give women the best opportunities and flexibility to return to work after starting a family.
  • Recruitment issues due to a small pool of suitable graduates and losing the European work stream.
  • Recognition that women are under-utilised in the engineering sector.

Key Actions

Culture and ethos: embedded in the mission, vision and values when the company was small that they would be an employer that was committed to equality. The values are explained during induction, discussed during appraisals and are presented on a poster in the office.

Recruitment: CVs are reviewed through a gender blind process, introduced checks on gender neutral language and female friendly job descriptions, interview lists that are mixed gender, women and men on interview panels and also encourage applicants to talk to other female graduates in the company.

Promoting women in the business: the company produced a publication that showcases the careers of women in the industry. The publication was distributed to schools to encourage 14-16 year olds to become interested in engineering.

Development and progression: there is Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for technical staff to achieve Chartered Status, and is supported at the early career stage because the company recognises that starting a family can delay career progression. Secondment opportunities exist to support professional development, for example, two women spent six weeks working for a contractor.

Mentoring scheme: staff can be allocated a mentor when they join the company. Senior female role models can mentor people through their Chartership and female managers also have the opportunity to mentor junior employees.

Representation of women Boards: the company is keen to have representation of women on the Board and provide support for suitable female candidates by offering Board training or the opportunity to complete a Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

Flexible working: the company’s policy allows any employee to apply for flexible working with all requests considered on an individual basis. The company has always offered an official hybrid approach with a remote desktop system to support working from home. Flexible working patterns include a four-day week or a nine-day fortnight. There is support for part-time work following maternity leave (a two day or three day week) or to remain part-time due to caring responsibilities.


  • Gender equality commitments are driven by the Board, the Managing Director (male) and the Head of Human Resources (female) with encouragement for all levels of the organisation to take responsibility, for example, as internal and external role models.
  • The company has developed a good working relationship with Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), participating in their award scheme that recognises achievements and commitments by organisations towards advancing gender equality.
  • Communications about the company’s gender equality actions are shared at the annual all company team day, at senior management meetings, and through regular Internet updates.

Measuring and monitoring

Data is collected and analysed by gender, for example, professional development activities and monitoring the time to promotion. The gender balance is tracked annually. Data analysis is shared on the company’s project management system and used in award applications.

Employees participate in three surveys: an annual staff survey that is run by an external consultant with questions guided by the Investors in People (IiP) indicators, the WISE 10 steps metrics[6] survey and also the Investors in People (IiP) survey. Feedback of the results is delivered at the annual team day.

Impact and effectiveness

  • The company and Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) collectively raised the profile of the business, generating publicity around the company’s gender equality initiatives.
  • The company has been able to promote its work to clients on the basis of their achievements in advancing gender equality.
  • Annual monitoring and reporting ensure that gender equality remains embedded in the company’ culture.
  • The company is able to attract talent by offering flexible working opportunities.
  • In response to negative reactions amongst some men to the promotion of women, the company ran a light-hearted initiative called ‘Men in Science and Engineering’ which served to create awareness and eliminate any perceptions of positive discrimination.
  • Long-standing challenge to have women represented at Board level.

Case Study E

Sector: Engineering

Key Stats: 892 employees (15% women, 85% men) Leadership/director level positions (81 men, 10 women) The Executive Board: 11 Directors (one woman)

Overview: A family-owned firm that has grown significantly in recent years with a board of directors appointed 5 years ago and more structure has been introduced. This has included a structured, though subtly implemented Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy.

Drivers of Action

  • Industry skill shortages: the main driver of action. The company became aware that they were not tapping into 50% of the workforce by failing to recruit and retain women.
  • Client expectations: in order to get on tender lists and win work, the company realised they need to ‘mirror’ their clients on a smaller scale in their approach to equality.
  • The company recognises that enhancing diversity creates a healthier business model, a better place to work and a more productive business as well as one that is more successful and sustainable.

Key Actions

Strategy: developed an overall Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy including 8 key areas such as recruitment, training and development and supporting people.

Working Group: the company invited nine individuals that represent all areas and levels of the organisation, lead by HR, to take part in a working group. This group meets every three months to share ideas and develop the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) approach, ensuring that messges land well.

Branding: the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) approach includes branding, with a name and logo used for all communications and work that takes place.

Mini Action Plans: the working group developed focus plans for each of the key areas in the overall strategy. These are then implemented gradually. For example, they revised job adverts by assessing the language used and changing any not deemed to be inclusive. HR are encouraging gender balance in shortlisting candidates and interview panels.

Graduate and apprenticeship programmes: one of the most successful elements of their approach so far has been the recruitment of young women through these programmes. They currently bring a 50/50 mix of men and women into the company through these routes.

Mentoring: available to everyone in the organisation but HR pay attention to ensure that women have access to this if they want it, particularly at an early career stage. They have a short training programme for those interested in being mentored. There is a plan to have an under 30s mentoring scheme where young employees are matched with members of the executive team.

In the pipeline

Influencing their supply chain: the company is now keen to promote the business benefits of their approach to businesses in their supply chain. They believe this will not only benefit the industry but will also mean that their suppliers will be better businesses to work with.


  • Getting the balance right: key to their success has been a gentle, gradual approach that promotes the business case for action while avoiding jargon and enforced policies.
  • Taking an inclusive approach: in order to get the balance right, the company has sought the views and expertise of employees from across the business via their working group which has been invaluable in ensuring messages and ideas are well received.
  • Learn and share: the company is open to learning both from internal and external sources. Externally this has included attending webinars and joining industry Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) groups. Internally, this includes being open to challenge from all levels of the business, for example, the company learned early on to avoid singling women out and instead promote equality across the board. The company shares their learning by offering training to other organisations in similar sectors.

Measuring and monitoring

  • The company conduct an annual engagement survey and they also monitor the demographics of the staff group. However, as employees are not obliged to share details with them, they do not get a complete picture.
  • The company keeps track of the numbers of men and women being recruited through different routes.

Impact and effectiveness

The business is seeing results most obviously through their recruitment levels of women through their early career routes.

The logistics of having women on interview panels in a male dominated workforce can be challenging simply from an availability perspective.

Case Study F

Sector: Engineering

Key Stats: 162 employees (40% women, 60% men) Company Directors 9 (7 men, 2 women) Non-Executive Directors 1 (man)

Overview: An engineering design consultancy with offices across the UK. Formed in 2009, the company has grown rapidly in the last 7 years from 30 to 162 employees.

Drivers of action

  • To support the delivery of designs to be used by a diverse population.
  • To prepare for regulatory gender transparency as the company grows.
  • To sustain a diverse workforce at all levels with an aim to challenge industry norms of full-time work, traditional office hours and networking at events, all of which are challenging for women with caring responsibilities.

Key Actions

Culture and ethos: engineering designs are underpinned by the diversity of end users so the company works to reflect this mix in their own workforce. The company re-examined their values and worked with all employees to ensure everyone works toward the shared goal of an inclusive environment.

Recruitment: use of a gender bias de-coder[7] website to write job adverts, social media posts and website news items that have balance in the number of masculine and feminine coded words used to appeal to everyone. Invitation to studio spaces to meet the team and showcase the inclusive workspace design and facilities as part of the recruitment process.

Promoting women in the business: female STEM Ambassadors, International Women’s Day (IWD) articles published on their website and through social media, leading the way in challenging industry norms by introducing alternative networking events, addressing non-inclusive behaviours and championing flexible working.

Training and development: transparent career progression for all employees that is available immediately from graduate entry, support through mentoring and time to study for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to achieve charter status, and active bystander training[8] instead of generic training around inclusivity.

Mentoring: ‘pod’ working has been introduced to create a new team structure that is more representative of the diversity within the workforce and to support learning from difference in design activity. As each pod includes difference by seniority of role, they also support the professional development of junior employees. The gender ratio of pod leaders reflects the mix of men and women in senior roles.

Representation of women at Board level: two of the nine Directors are women. An organisation restructure has introduced the Head of People & Culture (female) and Head of Communications (female) to the Executive team so that there is a greater gender balance in leadership. There is recognition that female representation is needed at non-Executive Director level and the company is in the process of addressing this gap by appointing a second person (female).

Flexible working: the Directors support flexible working requests, which are agreed on an individual basis. There is demand from both women and men for flexible working, with women particularly interested in flexible working when returning to work after having a family. Flexible working practices included 50/50 hybrid working options as employees move back to the office post-pandemic. There is an enhanced maternity package available whereby the company match parental leave to try and make care-giving more equal.


  • The company created a Diversity and Inclusion team and reviewed all policies from a gender perspective.
  • Training is provided at all levels of seniority on unconscious bias. Training is also provided to senior engineers on effective management to support flexible working.
  • STEM Ambassadors are permitted a certain amount of work time to go into schools, colleges, universities and career fairs.
  • Weekly office briefings and the company quarterly newspaper feature a regular ‘people and diversity’ section that celebrates difference. The quarterly practice presentations also offer a platform that is sometimes used to promote diversity.

Impact and effectiveness

Recruitment data has reported a positive change in the number of applicants since the gender bias de-coder approach was adopted for job adverts and social media posts. In the absence of systematic monitoring across all other initiatives, comments from team managers and employees interviewed reported positive feedback on the company’s approach.

An annual employee engagement survey is used as a way of measuring progress. Inclusivity is highly reported in the survey results as is support for appropriate inclusive behaviours.

There is significant flexibility for both men and women with recognition that women are still doing more of the childcare.

Merit-based promotion is important although this could put some women at a disadvantage if they have less time available to work extra hours to secure promotion.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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