Women in Agriculture research: progress report - 2020-2021

This report provides a progress update on research conducted as part of the Women in Agriculture (WIA) programme between 2020 and 2021. It presents overall findings, current work and outlines future research planned for 2021-2022.


The Women in Agriculture programme aims to bring about positive change, greater gender equality and sustainability within Scottish agriculture. This report provides a progress update on research conducted as part of the programme, between 2020 and 2021, in line with recommendations by the Women in Agriculture Taskforce.

Women are an integral part of Scottish agriculture. They make an essential contribution to the industry, whether working on farms, crofts and small holdings; supporting their families; or through being involved in the wider rural economy.

The Scottish Agricultural Census 2021 shows that 40% of all working occupiers and spouses on Scottish farms are female, and 60% are male.[3]

The Scottish Government's vision is for Scottish agriculture to become a fairer, more inclusive industry, where farm succession is not determined by gender, training is accessible to everyone, and more women take on senior roles in agricultural organisations.

The Women in Agriculture Taskforce was established by the Scottish Government in 2017, following research which showed that women face cultural barriers in the industry. The research suggested that this can lead to their work being undervalued and prevent their full participation.

The Scottish Government appointed the Women in Agriculture Taskforce to bring forward practical solutions to issues faced by women in the industry and to encourage greater gender balance and sustainability in Scottish agriculture. The taskforce published its final report in 2019, and made a series of recommendations on eight themes: Leadership; Training; Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture; Childcare in rural areas; Succession; New entrants to farming; Health and Safety and Crofting.[4]

Report summary

This report provides a progress update on research conducted as part of the Women in Agriculture (WIA) programme 2020-2021 to support the implementation of these recommendations. It outlines the methods and findings of research projects which have contributed to work on themes identified by the Taskforce, including leadership, training and childcare in rural areas. The report sets out the context for this work, and presents a summary of completed, current and future research between 2020 and 2022.

The projects include research conducted to inform the planning and evaluation of training pilots delivered through the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP).

The Women in Agriculture Development Programme

One of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce's central recommendations was that the Scottish Government develop a Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP).[5] This programme has been designed to deliver training and mentoring to support women in agriculture to build their confidence, enhance their business skills and develop their leadership abilities. It is being delivered through three specific but independent courses: personal development training, knowing your business, and leadership development. The pilot aims are as follows:

  • 'Be Your Best Self' will help women to build more confidence, explore new possibilities and opportunities, and make new connections
  • 'Knowing your Business' aims to help women involved in agriculture to increase their knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to help improve business performance
  • The 'Women in Agriculture Leadership Development Programme' will enable and empower more women living or working in agriculture to develop their abilities, and take up leadership positions within their communities and across the industry


The research outlined in this report draws on a range of methods, including literature reviews, interviews, focus groups and surveys. In many cases, these methods have been adapted due to restrictions during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The projects include both commissioned work and research completed by analysts in the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) division of Scottish Government.

This research has so far involved over 40 participants, including women with a range of roles in farming and agriculture, who live or work on crofts, farms and smallholdings. Respondents have different roles and skills, including:

  • Administration, for example business accounts, sales, contracts
  • Household management, for example cleaning, meals, childcare
  • Livestock management, for example lambing, milking, rearing calves
  • Crop management, for example ploughing, harvesting, transport
  • Other activities, for example agri-tourism, farm shops

The research findings give an insight into the experiences of women in agriculture who are of different ages, backgrounds and stages in their lives and careers. They also provide evidence of the impact of Women in Agriculture programmes and events.

Overall findings

A range of research has been planned, carried out and commissioned as part of the Women in Agriculture programme during 2020-21. This section includes a summary of the scope of the research and summarises overall findings by theme.

A range of research has been planned, carried out and commissioned as part of the Women in Agriculture programme during 2020-21. A timetable can be found on page 15.

The research builds on previous work exploring the role of women in Scottish agriculture, and demonstrates the impact of Women in Agriculture training programmes in developing women's skills, confidence and connections to other women in agriculture. It indicates how the experiences of women in Scottish agriculture are shaped by different factors, from their age, background or location to their role on a croft, farm, smallholding or in an agricultural business. The research has included women living and working in agriculture across different areas of Scotland, from islands such as Mull, Orkney and Skye, to Aberdeenshire, Highland and the Scottish Borders.

The research projects have focused on a range of topics, from rural childcare and the needs of agricultural families (see page 19), to the accessibility of training for women on islands (see page 27), and the impact of the 'Be Your Best Self' training pilot (see page 29). This research has provided evidence on specific topics, and also points to shared themes in women's experiences in Scottish agriculture, building on previous research conducted for Scottish Government (see Section 1).

Whilst recent work has focused on evaluating the impact of training for individual women who have taken part, or understanding challenges faced by families with parents working in agriculture, future research will broaden this scope by exploring how to bring about greater gender equality within Scottish agricultural organisations (see page 34).

The following section summarises overall findings from across the different research projects. More detailed findings for each project are set out in Sections 1, 2 and 3.

1. The changing role of women in agriculture

The research points to positive changes for women in agriculture. Findings suggest that there is an increased awareness of the role of women within the industry and the benefits of diversity for agricultural businesses and organisations. The research has also highlighted the success of Women in Agriculture training pilots in building connections between women in agriculture and giving them the skills and confidence to develop their roles on the farm or in the organisations they work for.

2. Connections between women in agriculture

The Women in Agriculture programme has led to new connections between women in the industry, which research suggests is vital in enabling them to access new opportunities and realise their potential. Whilst most 'Be Your Best Self' training sessions were held online, the women who took part were still able to build friendships and a support network (see page 29).

Respondents felt more connected to other women in agriculture after taking part in the course. This has a range of benefits, from practical advice when trying new things on the farm, to encouraging them to follow their career goals, for example by applying for board positions. It has also strengthened their identities, for example one participant described 'feeling stronger' about being a woman in agriculture.

3. The impact of training

Training delivered during 2020-2021 has had a range of positive impacts for women in agriculture, from participants feeling more optimistic about their future in the industry, to businesses and organisations taking part in discussions about unconscious bias and learning about the benefits of diversity (see page 22).

'Be Your Best Self' participants valued the opportunity to meet women with different roles in farming, and to learn from each other's experiences. They had clearer ideas about their future in agriculture after completing the course, and felt more confident about signing up for further training, and attending agricultural events or meetings. Those who have taken part in follow-up interviews have spoken about the long-term impact of the pilot, from shaping their career aspirations to developing their roles on the family farm.

Research into the training needs of women on islands suggests that practical, technical and business skills training would further benefit women in agriculture (see page 27). Future training programmes such as a Women in Agriculture Leadership course will address this and equip more women to take up leadership roles in agricultural organisations, and the rural and island communities they live in.

4. Conversations around diversity

The research indicates the potential for wider discussions around diversity and inclusivity within Scottish agriculture, going beyond gender to consider age, race, disability and other factors. Recent work also points to opportunities to share best practice. For example, following the Unconscious Bias training pilot, respondents stated that they would like more advice on practical steps to address bias, and case studies or examples from other agricultural organisations. Several highlighted their willingness to publicise what they are doing to increase diversity on their own boards (see page 22).

The development of future training pilots and research into equality initiatives will provide further opportunities for agricultural organisations to show their commitment to gender equality within the industry. Conversations around diversity should also be broadened to address wider barriers to participation for different groups. For example, during research conducted as part of an Equality Charter pilot, participants emphasised the wider meaning of equality, and the importance of ensuring equality of opportunity for people of every gender, race, religion, and ability (see page 25).

As a range of wider research shows, there is an intersection between gender and other aspects of identity, including race, class, sexual orientation, disability and religion. This can lead to different kinds of barriers, forms of discrimination or privilege.

This intersection between gender and other identity categories is something we aim to explore in future work. For example, a leadership programme for women in agriculture may give participants an opportunity to explore how their approaches to leadership are shaped by different aspects of their identity (see page 31).

This intersectional approach should take place alongside the collection of robust equalities data on protected characteristics such as age, sex, gender identity or trans status, religion and ethnic group to support equality of opportunity within agriculture.

5. Challenges for women in agriculture

Previous research has highlighted a range of challenges for women in agriculture, including cultural barriers and attitudes, and these remain significant.[6] Research shows that women in agriculture face different barriers, and that this is shaped by factors such as their age, background and levels of confidence.

Challenges are also shaped by place – for example travel distances and time constraints prevent women on islands participating in training (see page 29). These challenges raise different questions, and require different solutions, from personal development courses to wider initiatives across the agricultural industry.

Further research highlights connections between the challenges experienced by women in agriculture and wider rural issues, such as the availability of flexible childcare (page 20). These issues cause barriers to employment opportunities for women in rural Scotland, including those living and working in agriculture.

6. The impact of COVID-19

The research demonstrates both the positive and negative impacts of COVID-19 on women in agriculture, from increased demand for rural childcare services to the move to online training. Whilst home-schooling has impacted on some participants' ability to work, including on farms, it has raised questions around gender roles more widely. Further, the accessibility of online training and events has encouraged women to attend and enabled them to meet and seek advice from women living in other parts of the country, for example through the 'Be Your Best Self' training. COVID-19 may also lead to more flexible working options for women in agricultural businesses and organisations.

7. The future

Research participants have described a range of future plans, including applying for further training or new jobs, gaining board roles, supporting or mentoring other women and developing their family farms (see page 29).

The research conducted during 2020-2021 points to opportunities to bring about further positive changes for women in agriculture. This will be taken forward through future training programmes focusing on leadership and business skills, and commissioned research to inform work on an Equality Charter for Scottish agriculture.

This progress report indicates the scope of this work, from enabling individual women to feel confident enough to raise concerns about the way the business is run, to connecting women in agriculture across Scotland, to asking larger organisations to take practical actions toward gender equality. Each of these will lead to positive changes for women in Scottish agriculture.

Table 1. Timetable of research projects
Research title Summary Project dates
The challenges of rural childcare Research into the challenges of rural childcare provision, innovative models and the needs of agricultural families. September-December 2020
Unconscious Bias review A review of an Unconscious Bias training pilot delivered to agricultural organisations and businesses. September 2020- September 2021
Equality Charter pilot Research to inform the development of an Equality Charter for Scottish agriculture. December 2019 - March 2020
Islands consultation Research into accessibility and barriers in accessing training for women in island communities who live or work in Scottish agriculture. September-December 2020
'Be Your Best Self' Evaluation Follow-up research with participants as part of an evaluation of the 'Be Your Best Self' training pilot. January-December 2021
Leadership programme research An evidence review of leadership programmes and interviews with women in leadership roles to inform the development of a WIA leadership programme. May-November 2021
Evidence-based approaches to implementing equality commitments in organisations A research project comprising an evidence review and research exploring effective ways of bringing about greater gender equality within Scottish agricultural organisations. November 2021-April 2022
'Knowing your Business' evaluation Follow-up research with participants as part of an evaluation of the 'Knowing your Business' training pilot. 2022 - dates tbc.


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