Women in Agriculture 'Be Your Best Self' 2020-2021 pilot evaluation report

This report outlines the main findings of an evaluation of the ‘Be Your Best Self’ training pilot 2020-2021, funded by Scottish Government through the Women in Agriculture Development Programme.

6. Interview findings

This section provides a more detailed summary of the key interview findings by topic.

6.1 What they wanted to get out of the course

When asked what they wanted to get out of the course, the majority of interviewees said they wanted to build their confidence. Several also wanted to meet other women:

Self-confidence I suppose [...] getting to know myself better, and also I was hoping to meet people who […] if I had a problem or something I wanted to talk to people about, they would understand. (Interview 1)

Others wanted to find their ‘direction’. As the same participant put it: ‘Knowing what I wanted to do, and whether I was happy doing what I was doing, and just being confident in what I was doing’. As another suggested:

When it came down to it everybody’s main aim on the course was pretty much the same, even though we were all at completely different stages of life, it was all very similar when you broke it right down. (Interview 3)

Two of those interviewed noted that the women all shared a ‘lack of confidence’.

Several interviewees wanted to progress in their careers, by increasing their confidence and gaining new skills, including decision-making:

Throughout my life, every time I’ve changed jobs, I’ve always seemed to take a step back before I get a step forward, and it’s just really frustrating […] to see if I could find ways of [...] pushing myself forward a bit more. (Interview 4)

When asked if the course had been what they expected, a number of participants said they had not realised it would have such a personal focus. One stated that she was not sure, at first, if the course would be ‘useful’ for her:

It was totally different to what I was expecting [...] every other course I’ve ever done farming wise has been more practical and knowledge-based, stuff that I can do on the farm – whereas this was about me and my approach to it, and I think actually it’s had more of a lasting impact […] than any of the other things that I’ve done. (Interview 7)

A number of participants felt nervous before starting the course, as they did not know what to expect, and hadn’t done anything like it before:

I walked into the room and it was just full of people [...] it was quite daunting [...] because you don’t really know fully what it was going to be about [...] after the first day, it was like we knew each other for years. (Interview 2)

As one interviewee stated, people in agriculture ‘tend not to […] speak about things’. The course therefore took them out of their comfort zone:

I used to come out of each thing, and I’d be like […] you just can’t believe what we’ve just been talking about, and my husband would be like, well how’s that to do with farming – and I’d be like, well I don’t know, but it is, because now I feel like I can go and do A, B or C […] (Interview 7)

6.2 What they have gained from the course

The course has had a range of positive impacts for interviewees, from building their confidence in their skills and strengths, to enabling them to refocus, explore new opportunities and develop their roles on the farm or in the businesses they work in.

Identity and self-worth

The course has had a positive impact on participants’ identity and self-worth. It has made many of the women who took part in interviews feel more sure of themselves, and their role in agriculture:

I think it’s had quite a big impact […] now, if somebody asks what I do, I say well I’m a farmer [...] you can call yourself a farmer, you don’t have to be the farmer’s daughter or the farmer’s wife. (Interview 1)

For one interviewee, a new entrant, the course enabled her to re-consider her own perceptions, and has made her feel more ‘confident in myself’:

It’s just made me feel like a lack of knowledge is not necessarily a bad thing […] just because I’m a woman, and just because I’m a new entrant, it doesn’t mean that I don’t belong there […] I used to feel like I was almost not a real farmer […] actually […] This really is my job, maybe I will class myself as a farmer now. (Interview 7)

As one interviewee put it: ‘I think the thing I got out of it most when it comes to being a woman in agriculture is […] feeling stronger about it, in a sense’ (Interview 2). The course has enabled attendees to re-focus their ambitions. As another said:

I want to make a name for myself in this industry, and I don’t want to be that person that’s behind the face of my Dad and my partner […] I want farmers to know me as, oh […] I’ll phone [name], because I know her from the market or I know she’s got a good reputation, she’s trying to build herself in the ag world. (Interview 3)


For many interviewees, the course was an opportunity for self-reflection, and to think about how to handle others’ behaviour or manage conflict:

It made you think about a lot of things that you do, and why you do them, and if there’s things that you could change [...] to make your life better. (Interview 1)

I thought, people are just totally taking advantage of me […] after that day I was like, no, enough, I’m not being that person that you walk over anymore […] I learnt so much more about myself and other people. (Interview 3)

One participant felt she had developed skills in ‘listening, understanding people’, and ‘working out what kind of person you are’. This has helped her to ‘approach people differently’, including her family: ‘I’ve […] bitten my tongue, walked away, taken a deep breath, came back [...] I might have not done that a year ago’ (Interview 6).

Changes to their role on the farm

The impact of the course on participants’ levels of confidence has enabled them to develop their role on the farm and play a bigger role in decision-making:

Now, if they’re not listening, I’ll sit them down and say look, you’re not listening to me, I want to speak to you […] if I’ve got something to say that I feel is important, I’ll make sure that I do get listened to. (Interview 1)

One participant, who is a partner in the family farm, is ‘more confident’ about putting forward her ideas and taking part in ‘big decisions that are made on the farm’:

We grow a lot of malt and barley and we haven’t had a good year this year, so we’ve had quite a lot of discussions about what we’re going to do […] and we’ve left the company that we used to sell to and [we] had a conversation with a new grain group, but we were both involved in the conversation. We put the phone on speaker and we were both here […] which wouldn’t usually have happened [...] so decisions like that that [...] have quite a big impact on our business, we’re now discussing them more.

Another participant now feels able to make the decisions herself:

I always tended to fall back on my husband even though the farm is my thing […] because I lacked confidence [...] whereas now I’m just like actually, no this is my thing [...] I’ll make these decisions, and I’ve made them because I’ve done all the research, I’ve spoken to people […] it’s definitely changed how I conduct myself, as the main person on the farm.

Like changing tups […] we’ve changed breeds this year, so that was my decision [...] now I’ve got the confidence, that no this is my business, and I’m in charge of it […] if I know what I want to do then I just do it.

Similarly, another interviewee felt that the course has had a ‘big impact’ on her confidence, from studying to her role on the farm:

I’m more confident in what I’m doing with myself, and at home, if there’s something that [...] I would disagree with [...] I’d be more inclined to say something, rather than just be like, oh that’s just the way it’s done. (Interview 2)

The course has made her feel more confident about trying new farming activities:

Before, I would shy away from things that I hadn’t done before [e.g. tractor work] [now] I’m more inclined to be like, right, I’ll put a bale out for the cattle, I’ll plough this park […] trying to tell myself, just do it. Just get on with it. Try new things […] I’ve been pushing myself to do everything and learn everything.

She feels that her role on the farm has changed, and that her family have realised she needs to be ‘more involved’ with the decision-making, as ‘it is going to be [hers] one day’:

[They’re] more inclined to actually try new things and listen [to] what I’m saying […] I feel like it’s definitely become [...] more of a kind of joint partnership.

Interviewees also pointed to the potential long-term impact of the confidence they have gained, for example in succession planning:

There are changes that we know need to take place in our own business here, but it’s just a matter of timing […] the course probably gave me the confidence to voice my opinions more. (Interview 4)

Business planning

The course also gave interviewees practical tools to use in business planning. One participant had drawn a mind-map on the course, and shared it with her family. They then did a mind-map of the farm, which has given them a ‘direction’:

It’s allowed us to say right […] this is what we’re doing […] then [I] did a kind of timeline, and said right, well this is [a] three month window, bearing in mind we’re lambing and calving […] this was a six month window, and this was a year window, and I put things down on it, saying well we’d like to achieve X by that time […] (Interview 6)

Like other family farms, she explained, they’ve often ‘drifted along’, but now, ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it finished and out of the way’.

Similarly, another interviewee said:

We were never very good at planning […] now, on a Sunday morning we’ll sit down and […] get the diary out and write down the jobs we maybe want to do that week, or discuss what we’re going to do that month […] we are trying to forward plan more than what we did before [...] It makes you feel more focused on what we’re going to do, what jobs need done. (Interview 1)

The course had also helped other participants to think about diversification plans, and ‘using everything you’ve got around you to the best of your ability’:

I have everything here already to be able to do all this […] It’s given me the confidence that I can wait, and there still will be a market for it. I don’t have to do it immediately, but I can start planning now. (Interview 7)

Changes to their role at work

The ‘Be Your Best Self’ course has helped participants to be more confident at work. For example, one interviewee felt able to speak to her manager to get recognition for the work she’d been doing. ‘I would never have done that before’:

I messaged him, and said […] can I just have five minutes of your time to explain what I’ve done […] I was able to have that confidence in myself and I was able to say it to him and speak to him without getting angry and upset […] (Interview 3)

Since finishing the course, she has been able to ‘develop’ at work, drawing on the plan she wrote. It has also changed how she deals with problems, by ‘taking a step back and […] saying right, how do we do this’.

This interviewee now finds it easier to speak to senior management, ‘listen and understand what people are saying’, and ‘voice [her] opinion’.

Another participant explained that she is now more confident at work, and feels able to ask questions during team meetings.

The course has given interviewees the confidence to apply for new jobs, study for new qualifications or find additional sources of income. This will help them to develop their careers in the agricultural industry. As one put it:

I’ve had so much confidence from it […] I thought […] if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work […] whereas before I would have turned round and gone oh no, I’m not doing that […] I’ll stick to my comfort zone, whereas now I think […] it’s time to make a change.

New skills

The course has given interviewees further practical tools, including the notes they made during the sessions, which several use for ‘reference’:

I’ve still got the planning book […] it’s got all my little diagrams and things in it, and I still use them now, my little flow-charts [...] that was like a way to put it down on paper, and just keep coming back to it and refocusing my thoughts, so it just gives you a direction of where you’re going. (Interview 7)

We wrote down skills which we could do [...] a really big list, and realised that that would relate to this job, that would relate to that job, which made you kind of think about what you actually could do […] then when I looked at it, I was like oh wait, I actually could manage that [...] [it’s] something that I’ve gone back to. (Interview 2)

However, this approach did not work for everyone, as one interviewee said:

We did get a few new skills, but I think it would take practice to actually get good at and to be honest I haven’t really practised them […] I’m the type of person […] I just like to see the big picture, and then act […] I don’t take time to analyse, which is probably why I haven’t practised the techniques that we were being taught. (Interview 4)

As this participant acknowledged, a recent set-back at work impacted her experience of the course: ‘it hasn’t changed much for me’, ‘but then that’s maybe just early days’. This suggests that attendees who have looked back at what they learnt on the course and put their new skills into practice have seen clearer benefits.

6.3 Connections to other women in agriculture

The course has enabled attendees to build connections with other women in agriculture. The majority of interviewees were still in touch with other women in their cohort six to twelve months after finishing the course:

Having that group of women is actually the main thing that I took away from it […] It’s nice to have people around you that you feel are supportive. (Interview 1)

We’ve all come together, and I feel now I’ve made friends for life […] I’ll be able to go to the Highland show for example, and we’re all there and catch up or being able to support each other. (Interview 3)

Several participants stated that during the course, their group was able to break down the barriers that people often put up, and be more ‘open’ with each other:

I was able to say […] I am struggling with this, or I am worried about this, can you help, and I felt like it was such an open, safe group that if you said something […] nobody would judge you, they would all be supportive of you. (Interview 3)

The groups brought together women of different ages and backgrounds, who were able to share their knowledge with each other. Many of those interviewed felt they had benefitted from meeting women ‘from different walks of life’. Younger participants, for example, found it useful to hear about other women’s experiences and ask their advice.

As one interviewee stated, whilst their ages and situations may have been different, ‘you did find ways that you could relate to each other’:

It is nice to be able to speak to somebody completely different about like, what’s going on at home, or what you need advice on […] everybody’s got different strengths and can advise on different things […] it’s a really good support group to have. (Interview 2)

This was less beneficial for others. As one older participant stated: ‘I was more able to share my previous experience than to gain from other people’s experiences’.

Participants have met up in person, stayed in touch through social media, or talked to each other on the phone. The majority are still in touch with their cohorts online, sharing messages or replying to posts, and in some cases organising zoom calls.

I feel that there’s quite a lot of the ladies that I could message privately at any time about anything really and get help or advice […] (Interview 1)

Through groups set up on social media, the women are able to ask questions, share practical advice, their progress and encouragement about farming activities:

One of the girls has just bought herself some sheep, so we had quite a good discussion about that […] when she comes round to lambing time, she’ll have questions, and there’ll be plenty of people there to help her. (Interview 1)

When I was trying to decide on a tup, I had two breeds in particular and I just asked for anyone’s experience […] one of the girls, she’s got native breeds, and I used to keep native breeds […] I realised actually I have got some experience that other people don’t have [...] I actually can offer some advice (Interview 7)

One participant spoke about the importance of the group and described it as an ‘imaginary pat on the back’: ‘you feel as if […] you’re being thought about, you’re being cared about’. As she added, even if the online group isn’t as active, ‘we’re still there at the end of a telephone if somebody’s needing anything’ (Interview 6).

Interviewees spoke about the benefits of connecting to other women in agriculture, who understand what working in the industry is like: ‘it’s been great having that new group of friends really, that can relate to what you’re going through’ (Interview 1).

It was nice to see how each person has developed and what they were doing and how we could come together to help each other in our different roles […]

It’s just nice to feel that everybody was taking something out of that, and thinking you know what, we are not just women in agriculture, we’re here to make an impact, let’s raise our voices. (Interview 3)

The course has strengthened existing connections and led to new ones. For example, one interviewee has met other farmers in her area through women in her cohort, whilst another has become friends with someone she got to know better on the course. As she said, ‘it was good to see them in a different environment’, and talk about something ‘different’.

All of the interviewees felt that it was important to create these connections between women in agriculture. Several felt it would be beneficial to bring women from across the different cohorts together, to create a wider network.

6.4 Feedback on the course

During the interviews, participants also gave feedback on specific aspects of the course. The one-to-one meetings were key to making participants feel comfortable before taking part. They gave interviewees an opportunity to talk about what they wanted to get from it, and to identify specific issues. For example, one said the facilitator had drawn attention to her body language, and how it reflected her lack of confidence. Another said:

I was so nervous going into that one-to-one meeting [...] and after ten minutes I just felt like, I’m just gonna open up […] and she was like, right okay, let me help you with this […] we need to work on this […] she kind of gave me like an action plan thing to work with. (Interview 3)

One participant, who hadn’t benefitted from the course as much as other interviewees, said she wished she had ‘made more’ of this meeting: ‘I should have just opened up and told her […] properly what I was hoping to get out of it’.

Several interviewees spoke about the benefit of being put into smaller groups during the course, as it gave them a chance to get to know other women in their cohort, and made it easier for those who were less confident to take part:

I really enjoyed when they’d split us up into smaller groups [...] and then when you then fed that back to the main group, the sharing of those experiences was quite empowering […] I’m not a big talker […] but by the end of it, I already knew […] what value they were adding to my own experience […] that aspect of it […] learning other people’s stories, gave me [confidence]. (Interview 7)

I think that’s part of the reason that we all ended up feeling quite safe to say things, and that we have a bit of a bond with the other group members […] that kind of cohort approach, I think worked really well. (Interview 5)

We were given the opportunity to discuss things that we’d not done so well, and there was absolutely zero judgement, and all anyone ever had was positive advice and encouragement […] they could actually give you some practical feedback, as well as giving you that moral support. (Interview 7)

One interviewee felt that doing the course in half-day sessions made it a more manageable time commitment:

It allowed us to kind of disappear off, have a think about things […] and then two days later we came back and we were going, yep, I knew exactly where you were coming from. (Interview 6)

Participants also valued being able to give feedback during the course, on what they were learning, and to share their ‘honest opinions’.

6.5 COVID-19 and other challenges

The interviews also highlighted some of the challenges experienced by women in agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst difficult to measure, this has shaped the impact of the course for the women who took part:

It’s so difficult coming back with such a positive mind-set and then everybody’s still the same as they were a couple of days before […] it was quite hard to begin with to try and keep this momentum up, because we’re locked down. (Interview 2)

Several interviewees had struggled to balance childcare, home-schooling and their work on the farm during this time. The online groups were a key form of support. As one noted, they may not ‘have had as much contact if it had been a normal year’:

I think just having people there who can relate to what you’re going through is really helpful […] what we’ve gone through in the last year, there’s quite often been a day where somebody’s put on, you know, I’m really struggling […] It’s such a lovely feeling, to know that you’ve got all of those people there. (Interview 1)

Whilst interviewees had largely positive experiences of doing the course online, with some noting that this made it more accessible for women living in rural and island areas, several felt they would have made stronger connections in-person:

I would have really liked to have [met face-to-face], and I think that would have made a big difference to me […] on how I felt I could approach the members in the group afterwards, because at the moment it still feels a bit remote. (Interview 4)

It’s been a bit difficult because ours was delivered online […] our group sort of said we’d really like to meet up […] it’d be great to meet up with the other cohorts as well [...] there is the start of a network there that could be very influential. (Interview 5)

6.6 Next steps

This [course] has given me something that I didn’t have before [...] for me it was the right place and the right time [...] whilst it’s not given me the answers it’s made me go forward and it’s given me options [...] (Interview 5)

The majority of the women interviewed stated that the course has had a positive impact on their plans for the future. In many cases, it has led them to re-focus and re-prioritise, from changing jobs to taking up new opportunities. All of the women felt more confident about applying for further training to gain new agricultural skills or develop their careers.

I want to go on a clipping course, so I can clip my own sheep […] I’d be more inclined I think now to go on courses and learn different things […] It’s definitely opened my eyes to more options. (Interview 2)

Those interviewed have taken actions including: applying for board roles, signing up for further coaching, looking into bookkeeping courses and contacting sheep breeders to gain work experience during lambing season. Several wanted to develop their careers in agricultural businesses with further practical training:

A couple of years ago […] I was like, oh no that’s not for me, whereas now I feel well, if I put myself out there and I get accepted, it’d be brilliant, if not I’ll try again […] I want to put as much into my career as I can. (Interview 3)

I haven’t been successful yet […] maybe I’ve just not been the right fit or […] not had quite the right skills [...] I’m sure it’s something that I could be good at, and actually I’m not put off by the fact I’ve applied for a few things and then not been successful because I know that I’ll get there in the end […] (Interview 5)

The course has increased their confidence, resilience and motivation. For example, one participant said that the training has made her think about ‘how things fit together’:

It’s made me having a look at what I’ve done with my life, what qualifications I’ve got, what I’ve enjoyed doing, and then kinda just reassessed what I’ve got […]

Then I also looked at, okay, the farm […] where could I have an involvement [...] what other things can we look at […] (Interview 6)

Another interviewee said that she now feels more ‘more optimistic’:

It’s definitely made me more optimistic about my future as well, thinking about widening my options a bit, and even though I do want to stay at home, realising there is more than just going home and getting that office job […]

Now I definitely want to go and do a couple of lambings down south, experience a couple of things […] see how other folk run things, and maybe adapt that into what we’re doing to make it more profitable. (Interview 2)

This connects to the wider sense of confidence the course has given attendees:

I think I took quite a lot of inspiration […] that you can do whatever you want to do, you don’t have to wait for somebody to give you permission to do it. If you want to work hard enough and you want something enough, then it’s possible […]

There was another girl that I know that was thinking about applying for it, and I just told her to go for it […] I said it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done. (Interview 1)


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