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.

2. Completed research

This section outlines research completed as part of the Women in Agriculture programme 2020-21, including projects focusing on rural childcare and the accessiblity of training for women living or working in agriculture on islands.

2.1. The challenges of rural childcare

Access to childcare represents a significant barrier for women's participation in the agricultural industry,[9] and this research contributed to the Women in Agriculture programme by investigating new or flexible models of childcare that could benefit agricultural families in rural and remote areas. The research aimed to provide:

  • a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities in rural childcare and their relevance to women living and working in the agriculture sector;
  • evidence to support the development of a rural childcare pilot.[10]

Research summary

This research examined how financial and practical challenges impact the sustainability of rural childcare services; the childcare needs of agricultural families; and the opportunities provided by innovative models.

The research showed that there are a number of wider challenges in rural childcare provision, including: fewer services, resulting in pressure on existing providers; sustaining provision in more remote settings with lower numbers of staff and children; a shortage of transport provision, including drop-off services and public transport; a shortage of suitable venues; and difficulties recruiting staff, particularly for senior roles. These findings are summarised in more detail below.

Whilst many providers stated that additional funding would have a positive impact, this report highlights wider challenges around the sustainability of rural childcare services, many of which are connected to longstanding issues in rural areas, from employment to transport and broadband. It is clear that a shortage of suitable childcare remains a barrier to employment opportunities in rural Scotland, particularly for women.

The research highlighted a need for both standard and innovative models of childcare provision in rural areas in order to improve sustainability and better meet the needs of families with a range of working patterns, including those working in agriculture. The final report was published in March 2021[11] and a one-page summary of the findings was shared with providers who took part (Annex 1).

Research methods

A total of nine telephone interviews were conducted with childcare providers, the majority of whom are using new and innovative models. The interviews focused on issues including facilities, transport and staffing. Those interviewed worked in a range of settings, in both accessible rural and remote areas, including in the local authorities of Argyll and Bute, Highland, Moray and the Scottish Borders.

Research findings

'We already have the option for families to book […] extra sessions at different times of the year, that flexibility where we have space, is very useful to farming and agricultural families […] at the times where they need the extra childcare.' (Outdoor provider, Interview 3)

  • Providers highlighted a lack of choice in rural areas, and a shortage of early years provision (ages 0 to 3) and childminders. Whilst many struggle due to low numbers, others have long waiting lists due to a shortage of other provision. Many successful services are run collaboratively for example with parents, third-sector providers or the council.
  • Flexible providers can offer parents extra sessions and extend their hours if required. In smaller, remote settings this was often not an option due to limited capacity. Providers stated that longer days to fit around working hours would benefit rural parents. Transport and funding was seen as essential to the success of additional provision.
  • Childcare requirements are affected by parents' working patterns throughout the week and year. This varies in different areas, from shift work in retail or the care sector to tourism and agricultural jobs. Several providers stated that it is women who transport children, and are limited to part-time and low-paid work as a result. They also raised issues around the affordability of childcare, particularly in smaller settings.
  • Many providers observed that agricultural families have busier and quieter times of the year, including lambing. These families benefit from being able to book further sessions when needed, longer opening hours, after-school clubs and drop-off services at busier points in the year.
  • Many of the more remote providers, for example in villages in the Highlands, are based in community halls they share with other groups, and noted the high cost of renting the buildings, inability to make changes, and tension with local residents. This also creates additional work for staff in setting up and cleaning after sessions. Other providers face practical challenges, for example outdoor nurseries discussed closures due to bad weather.
  • Most children are driven to rural childcare services, with journeys varying from 15 minutes to an hour. In many cases, public transport was not seen as adequate, although a small number of children and staff were lift-sharing, or travelling to settings by bus, bike and ferry. For those in more remote sites, this causes issues in the winter. Providers also felt that this has an impact on the accessibility of services for families on lower incomes.
  • The majority of providers had experienced problems with staffing, particularly for more senior roles. Those following innovative models had experienced fewer problems with recruitment. Access to training is an issue for many, due to the costs of travel and accommodation and reduced availability in rural areas. The transition to online training has been mostly beneficial.
  • Innovative models also lead to further opportunities, with multi-partnership models such as intergenerational projects and shared management across settings making use of the available resources in rural areas. Outdoor nurseries tend to attract children from a wider area, and in several cases, children were travelling further to attend them due to parental choice.
  • Providers raised concerns around financial sustainability, for example the number of staff required to meet guidance, the cost of renting shared buildings. The financial viability of services was affected by lower numbers of children and changes in demand. There was a perception that many of the smaller services in rural areas have closed due to these issues. Several providers had received additional funding or grants, for example from the Inclusion Fund, or benefit from fundraising and volunteer support.
  • Providers discussed ways of supporting rural childcare services, including start-up grants, top-up fees for settings with a small number of children, additional funding for staff wages and transport. If setting up a new rural service providers stated the main things required would be: qualified staff, a suitable and affordable building, and transport options for parents, for example car parking, a drop-off service.
  • The research also indicated the impact of COVID-19 on rural childcare providers, including the financial costs of additional cleaning, temporary closures and limits on numbers. In several cases, this has led to reduced flexibility for parents.

This research informed the development of a rural childcare pilot with Mull and Iona Community Trust, which is being co-funded by the Women in Agriculture programme.[12]

2.2. Unconscious Bias review

Review of a Women in Agriculture-funded Unconscious Bias training pilot delivered to agricultural organisations and businesses. Survey findings have been used to evaluate the success of the pilot and examine what changes it has led to.

Research summary

In 2020, an Unconscious Bias Training pilot was delivered to seven agricultural organisations, following a recommendation by the WIA Taskforce (2019) that Scottish agricultural organisations and businesses undertake diversity and unconscious bias training to support cultural change and address gender imbalances in leadership groups.

The training was carried out by Changing the Chemistry,[13] a charity that specialises in helping organisations to implement greater diversity in the boardroom. The training aimed to promote an understanding and awareness of the benefits of diversity for organisations, including improved decision-making and performance. During the sessions, members of the board or senior management teams discussed this, in addition to practical steps that can be taken to achieve a more diverse board or management team.

The pilot was completed in January 2021 and the results are currently being analysed, with six and twelve-month follow up reports due from several organisations.

Research methods

All attendees were asked to complete a questionnaire following each session and representatives of the organisations or businesses have also been asked to complete six and twelve month follow-up reports, focusing on:

  • how board membership has changed since the workshop, and when they will next be recruiting new members
  • what the organisation has done so far to take forward the identified actions in the workshop, and if there is a formal plan with agreed deadlines to improve the board's diversity
  • what the most difficult aspects have been in seeking to improve board diversity, and what support or guidance might help

Research findings

'As a board member I feel much more aware, and through that changes can be made going forward.' (Survey respondent)

  • The sessions were successful in raising awareness of unconscious bias and its impacts, and the benefits of diversity for organisations;
  • The sessions have gone well overall with high levels of engagement, with attendees valuing the chance to learn about unconscious bias and to hear from people outside the agricultural industry;
  • The aspect which attendees most enjoyed was having the time to take part in open discussions on the topic and sharing their views with the facilitators, board members and their colleagues;
  • Attendees at each sessions suggested a wide range of actions to take forward within their organisations, which largely focused on being more open about the work of the board and its recruitment process;
  • The majority (90%) were comfortable with the proposed actions, and in many cases stated that they built on what the organisation already plans to do. In this sense, several sessions served mainly to reinforce existing aims or views;
  • For others, there was a sense that enough had been done, or that things took time to implement or there were a lack of resources to do it;
  • Whilst nearly half (46%) stated they were 'very' confident that the actions would be done, others were less confident (48% said 'Somewhat');
  • In several cases there have been more uncomfortable discussions, due to a lack of familiarity with the topic or experience of talking about diversity;
  • In addition to this, the training provider faced difficulties in getting agricultural organisations to sign-up for the training, and some issues with attendance.
  • When asked what would help the delivery of the actions, respondents suggest continued engagement from the board, further time and resources, and a detailed action plan with deadlines and follow-up support;
  • In terms of the workshop content, respondents stated that they would have liked more advice on practical steps to address bias, case studies or examples from other agricultural organisations, and advice tailored to their organisation;
  • Respondents often highlighted their willingness to share examples of best practice with other organisations and to publicise what they are doing to increase diversity on their own board and within their membership.

Most of the organisations or businesses which took part in the training pilot have now completed six month follow-up reports. The majority stated that there is a formal plan with agreed deadlines to improve the board's diversity. The organisations have taken forward a range of actions identified in the workshop, including:

  • reviewing and making changes to board recruitment and induction processes
  • updating board recruitment packs or holding events to share further information, for example, around time commitments and the benefits of being involved
  • reviewing annual general meeting (AGM) invitations and organisation values, or surveying members to review board meeting times
  • sharing profiles of board members, e.g. through magazines and other member communications; engaging with their members through social media, for example, blogs or videos featuring women
  • developing programmes for women and younger members

The workshops have led many organisations to be more open about their boards and recruitment processes, for example by providing more information to encourage applications for roles such as trustees. It has also led several businesses to re-consider when board meetings are held, and the language used during meetings. Several expressed interest in offering unconscious bias training to further members of staff.

However, most organisations reported that they have not increased the gender diversity of their boards since taking part. In some cases, this was because new members were not due to be recruited yet, whilst COVID-19 has led to challenges in implementing changes. As one organisation put it: 'This is still a work in progress'.

Next steps

The Unconscious Bias training was well received and successful in terms of raising awareness of unconscious bias, and the benefits of diversity for organisations and businesses. Whilst many of the organisations have made positive steps in terms of making processes more transparent and open, there is limited evidence so far that the pilot has led to greater gender diversity in the boardroom, or long-term change. Most of the organisations have indicated that they would appreciate further in-depth guidance and practical suggestions for creating an action plan.

More widely, there is mixed evidence of the effectiveness of this type of training. For example, a recent UK Government review of Unconscious Bias training (2020) states that there is limited evidence of its ability to effectively change behaviour and suggests instead that organisations invest in initiatives focused around processes (e.g. recruitment and progression) and commit to long term actions in order to support behavioural change.[14]

2.3. Equality Charter pilot

Research to inform the development of an Equality Charter for Scottish agriculture, including pilot interviews with participants from farms and organisations.

Research summary

One of the recommendations made by the Women in Agricultural Taskforce in their final report (2019) was that an Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture is established and mainstreamed into all Scottish Government agricultural and related policies. This will create a platform to support participating agricultural businesses and organisations in their commitment to gender equality.[15] Research was completed between 2019 and 2020 to inform the development of this Charter.

The Equality Charter is a set of principles and actions developed by the Taskforce, to ensure that everyone involved in an agricultural business has access to training, resources and career progression opportunities. The Charter sets out the key ways that businesses and organisations of any size in Scottish agriculture can work towards equality. It was created in order to raise awareness of the cultural barriers experienced by women and support positive change in the industry.

Research method

Between December 2019 and March 2020 we engaged with nine farms and organisations to pilot the Charter and to gather feedback. Participants were chosen on the basis of farm type and location, to ensure we included different types of businesses (diversified business, cereal and crops, horticulture and poultry, dairy, sheep and cattle LFA, cattle and arable, family croft) that are located across Scotland.

Interviews were undertaken with ten participants (5 female and 5 male) from nine participating farms. The interviews aimed to: gather feedback on the Charter, examine whether the principles were clear to people working in agriculture, explore how they could implement it in their own business and discuss potential commitments that farms of different sizes could make.

Research findings

'I don't really know what else I can offer or do or add. We are mostly family, we only hire two people, we do school visits, participate in research […]' (Interview 1)

Research participants identified a number of manageable commitments that small farms could potentially take, including: engagement with schools and other educational activities; encouraging family members who usually do not attend NFUS meetings to attend them more frequently; and improvements to recruitment processes and internships.

The research highlighted the difference between small farms and larger farms or organisations, which hire more employees (i.e. non-family members) and have access to additional resources. The design of the Charter should take these differences into account. Commitments for large farms or organisations identified by participants included: unconscious bias training; public statements about equality, reviewing images and language in media engagement to reflect women's contribution to farming; improvements to recruitment procedures to attract more women; choosing suppliers who value equality, and providing training for staff.

Participants identified two main challenges in developing equality commitments. Firstly, the perception of many farmers that they are already doing enough in this area, and the limited capacity of small farms to meet the commitments. Secondly, the frequent staff rotation and seasonality of agricultural jobs. This means that the number of men or women working in various roles might be difficult to measure.

The pilot research also gathered participants' feedback on practical aspects of the Charter, including: advertisement and outreach, incentives and funding, and follow-up methods. The research pointed to potential challenges including: low rates of participation, how to plan follow-up research to monitor progress and how to ensure shared responsibility in meeting the commitments. Wider issues discussed with participants included: the gender diversity of agricultural boards; succession and taxation; and mental health in agriculture.

Follow-up research

In July 2020, we contacted the nine pilot participants to assess how they had progressed with their commitments. Five were available to take part in follow-up interviews. The research findings are summarised here:

  • respondents stated that equality meant more than just gender. They emphasised the need to include other factors within the Charter, and to recognise that equality of opportunity should be for every race, religion, and ability
  • some participants had not been able to progress with commitments due to the impact of COVID-19. Others had partially progressed, such as planning for training courses, or working towards implementing change once restrictions ended
  • most respondents were unsure about what type of support they would need, in many cases due to a lack of progress and focus on COVID-19. Others stated that the level of support needed would vary depending on the size and type of farm
  • when asked what the Equality Charter meant to them, respondents gave a range of answers from 'not a huge amount' to an essential building block for achieving equality. Everyone was aware of the importance of achieving equality within farms
  • respondents were also aware that changing behaviours, attitudes, and traditions would take time, but that the charter would allow for more open discussion around the subjects of gender, race, and disability
  • when asked if they had any recommendations for new commitments, respondents gave answers including wider inclusion of supply chain organisations, such as marts, auctioneers, and other suppliers, and a set of wider commitments suitable for smaller agricultural holdings such as crofts
  • when asked if they would recommend the charter to others, all participants stated that they would do so if the charter could be improved, expanded, and appropriately linked with other policies. They saw value in its ambitions and hoped it succeeded.

Next steps

The WIA Equality Charter is currently under a new phase of development, and research planned for 2021-22 will contribute to this work (see page 34).

2.4. Islands consultation

Research to ensure that training delivered through the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP) is accessible for women on islands. The survey received 24 responses in total and a final report was completed in December 2020.

Research summary

This research was carried out as part of an islands consultation to find out how to make the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP) as accessible as possible for women on islands. Through a short online survey we aimed to:

  • research the needs and experiences of women in Scottish island communities in accessing training opportunities
  • identify and understand the main barriers that prevent women from island communities attending training
  • gather their perspectives on how to make training more accessible to women from island communities

Research method

A short online survey (10-15 minutes) was shared by email and stakeholder groups in October 2020. The survey targeted women in island communities who live or work in Scottish agriculture and received 24 responses in total.

Respondents included women from ages 18 to 69 from 13 different island communities. Over half of respondents lived or worked on a croft, a third lived or worked on a farm and over a tenth lived or worked on a smallholding.

Respondents worked in a range of roles on a farm, croft or small holding. The most common were administration, for example business accounts, sales, contracts (86%), household management, such as cleaning (82%) and livestock management, for example lambing, milking, rearing calves (77%).

Research findings

The research indicated that women in island communities would find practical, technical and business skills training (for example IT, business finance, equipment training) most useful. Half of respondents (50%) thought that training in these areas would lead to more women in their island communities taking up leadership roles, including within agriculture.

Over half of respondents had previously planned to attend a training course and then been unable to. The most common issues or barriers that prevent women in island communities participating in training were identified as travel distances, time constraints, caring responsibilities, and lack of opportunities. Practical adjustments such as travel grants and online training were commonly seen as ways to increase participation.

Respondents indicated a slight preference for face to face training (42%) over online training (33%), for reasons including the accessiblity and flexibility of online training, responsibilities such as childcare and health concerns due to COVID-19.

The majority of respondents (67%) stated a preference for local training. For training held in mainland Scotland locations, respondents stated that Glasgow and the Highlands, including Oban and Inverness would be most accessible.

In terms of the timing of events and training, aspects which respondents stated should be considered included farming calendars (for example. lambing and harvest), weather, travel disruptions, and ferry timetables. They identified a need for further opportunities; flexibility in terms of learning, and inter-island connectivity.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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