Women in agriculture - leadership programme development: research

This report outlines the main findings of research conducted to inform the development of a leadership programme for women in agriculture, which will be funded by Scottish Government through the Women in Agriculture Development Programme.

5. Conclusions

In conclusion, the research findings demonstrate the potential of a leadership programme for women in agriculture, from the personal impact this could have on individual women as they progress in their careers, to the wider contribution this could make toward shaping a fairer, more inclusive industry. It also provides evidence of the challenges that women in leadership roles face and the range of practical skills they need to succeed in these positions.

Based on the evidence review of wider literature on women's leadership programmes, and interviews with women in mid-level and leadership positions in agriculture and other relevant sectors, the key conclusions are:

Leadership programmes are beneficial in helping women to progress in their careers - for several participants, these programmes have been key to gaining board or leadership roles within agricultural organisations. This is due to both the personal and practical impact these programmes can have: firstly, in building women's confidence and re-focusing their goals, and secondly, in connecting them with others and equipping them with practical skills for leadership.

Participants' experiences suggest that women are more likely to take a collaborative approach to leadership – women have their own leadership styles, which are shaped by multiple aspects of their identity. Participants saw listening as a key skill, alongside being adaptable and willing to learn from mistakes.

A leadership programme for women in agriculture should recognise and develop women's professional skills and build their support networks - the findings in this report demonstrate that support from organisations is key to women's personal development. Participants also highlighted the importance of support from their families, friends and trusted mentors in the industry.

A leadership programme will support long-term change - by encouraging women with leadership potential to be more ambitious about their own roles in farming and agriculture, the leadership programme should have a wider impact on women's representation within the industry. The evidence review shows the wider benefits of women's progression for organisations, their boards and members. This should be a key consideration in the programme's design and evaluation.

Women in leadership roles in agriculture and other sectors face challenges including overcoming sexism - the research in this report provides an insight into the challenges faced by women both early on in their careers and in leadership, in agriculture and male-dominated sectors such as transport or construction. This includes encountering and overcoming sexism, speaking up at meetings, handling difficult conversations and having to work harder to gain people's respect.

Most participants have had positive experiences in taking on leadership or board roles within Scottish agriculture - feeling supported and encouraged by other members of the organisation. However, the research also points to the difficulties of navigating meetings in male-dominated contexts, dealing with more 'assertive' styles of leadership and the impacts of gender bias.

A leadership programme for women in agriculture should acknowledge these challenges whilst aiming to equip women with new practical skills - from chairing meetings to negotiation - and personal ones, such as self-awareness and resilience. As many of the interviewees explained, these skills are key to developing women's leadership abilities, preparing them and giving them the confidence to take up new roles.

The findings outlined in this report will inform the development of a leadership programme for women in Scottish agriculture, as part of the Women in Agriculture

programme. The 2021-22 Programme for Government set out a commitment to

ensure that women living or working in Scottish agriculture are empowered to

develop their skills, access opportunities and realise their potential. The leadership programme will be key to delivering this, and will benefit women in the industry by ensuring that they are better represented and play a greater role in the leadership of Scottish agriculture.

A summary of evidence-based recommendations for the content of a Women in Agriculture leadership programme is included in Table 1.

Table 1. Recommended content for a Women in Agriculture leadership programme
Type of content Examples
Leadership skills
  • Leadership styles
  • Motivations and approach
  • Career planning
  • Future goals
Business skills
  • Industry knowledge
  • Board roles and purpose
  • Chairing meetings
  • Negotiation skills
Practical skills
  • Listening skills
  • Time management
  • Business/project planning and risk management
  • Ability to learn
Personal skills
  • Confidence and self-awareness
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Resilience, e.g. dealing with challenges
  • Leadership identity
Other content
  • Leadership role models
  • Networking opportunities
  • Connections with other women in agriculture
  • Mentoring relationships
  • Certificate
  • Coaching


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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