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.

3. Current research

This section outlines research currently being conducted for the Women in Agriculture programme, including the evaluation of the 'Be Your Best Self' training pilot and research into women's leadership programmes.

3.1. 'Be Your Best Self' Evaluation

An evaluation of the 'Be Your Best Self' training pilot 2020-2021, funded through the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP) through follow-up interviews with women from cohorts 1-4, and an analysis of pre-course and post-course questionnaires sent to all attendees.

Research methods

All attendees on the 'Be Your Best Self' 2020-2021 training pilot were asked to complete a pre-course and post-course questionnaire. Follow-up interviews with 6-8 women from across cohorts 1-4 are also being conducted, 6 to 12 months after they have finished the training. The interviews focus on the long-term impact of the course on their confidence, skills they have developed, changes and/or barriers they have experienced.

Four interviews have been conducted so far with women from the first two cohorts. The interviews explore whether the course has achieved its intended outcomes:

  • Connect - participants will connect with like-minded individuals and gain a support network of women in agriculture that is maintained after the completion of the pilot.
  • Support - participants will recognise their shared experiences, and gain increased levels of optimism, self-worth and confidence in their own skills, strengths and experiences.
  • Represent - participants will gain the confidence to put themselves forward for and take on further opportunities, including having a voice in decision-making on their own farm, croft or smallholding and in agricultural organisations, representing the industry at local/national level.

Research findings

The results from pre-course and post-course questionnaires demonstrate that:

  • respondents felt more optimistic about their future in agriculture after completing the course, and had clearer ideas about their future in agriculture
  • participants were more confident that they have useful skills, strengths and experiences after completing the course
  • the majority of respondents stated that the course had a 'positive impact' on their confidence in their own skills, strengths and experiences (86%)
  • after the course, the majority of respondents stated that they would feel more confident about taking part in agricultural events (78%) and signing up for further training or employment opportunities (88%)
  • respondents felt more connected to other women in agriculture after taking part in the course. Whilst beforehand, nearly half were 'unsure' if they had good connections to other women in agriculture (47%), afterwards, the majority of respondents said they had good connections to other women in agriculture (90%)
  • all who responded to the post-course questionnaire stated that they thought the course would be beneficial to other women in agriculture

'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)

'Before, I would shy away from things that I hadn't done before […] 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 […] try new things.' (Interview 2)

Interviews conducted with women from Cohorts 1-2 indicate that:

  • the course has had a positive impact on interviewees' sense of confidence, optimism and self-worth, and has led to positive changes in terms of their own roles in farming and agriculture
  • the course has led to lasting connections and the creation of a support group of women in agriculture, with participants staying in touch online and offering advice and support to each other during the past year
  • those interviewed have valued the opportunity to meet women of different ages and backgrounds, from various locations and roles in farming, and to learn from each other's experiences
  • the course has helped women who are at different stages of their lives, to refocus and re-prioritise
  • the course has helped most interviewees to feel more optimistic about the future and confident about exploring new opportunities
  • all interviewees stated that they would recommend or have recommended the course to other women

Research with BYBS participants indicates the value in building connections between women in agriculture, and the potential for a wider network:

'It'd be great to meet up with the other cohorts as well […] I think there is the start of a network there that could be very influential and […] thinking about where this goes now […] it's a bit of a launch-pad.' (BYBS participant)

Next steps

Following the success of the pilot and positive feedback from the women who have taken part, the Scottish Government is funding another series of 'Be Your Best Self' courses, which will be delivered during 2021-2022, starting in October 2021. These courses will also be evaluated through pre-course and post-course questionnaires, and follow-up interviews with participants from across different cohorts.

In addition, a short online survey will be sent to 'Be Your Best Self' applicants in order to collect equalities data on age, sex, gender identity or trans status, sexual orientation, health, religion and ethnic group. This data will enable Scottish Government to monitor the impact of Women in Agriculture programmes and will contribute to our work to improve the collection of equalities data and promote equality and diversity within Scottish agriculture.

3.2. Leadership programme

The Women in Agriculture leadership programme will be delivered in 2022 and will form part of the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP). Research into leadership programmes and models suitable for women in Scottish agriculture will provide an evidence base for the development of this pilot.

Research summary

Previous research found evidence of a lack of women in leadership positions in Scottish agriculture.[16] It also identified cultural barriers and significant unconscious gender bias where women are not expected to be in leadership positions.

Whilst wider research points to positive changes within agricultural businesses and organisations since this report, there are still a lack of women in leadership roles, and several barriers remain, including: cultural barriers and attitudes; women's lack of confidence; practical issues such as time commitment or lack of training; and male-dominated organisations. Further work is needed to ensure that women are better represented in agriculture and progress to more senior roles in sector bodies.

The Women in Agriculture leadership programme will be delivered in 2022. It will be an important part of the Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP), following a recommendation by the Women in Agriculture Taskforce (2019) that the Scottish Government develop a leadership course to form a cohort of women ready to take up leadership roles in Scottish agriculture.

To plan the development of the leadership programme, ensure it is appropriately designed and successful in enabling more women to take up leadership positions within Scottish agriculture, an evidence review of leadership programmes and models suitable for women in Scottish agriculture will be conducted, alongside qualitative research.

Research methods

The research will include an evidence review of leadership programmes, and interviews with women in mid-level and leadership positions in Scottish agriculture.

The evidence review will examine a range of leadership programmes and current practice. It will look at wider literature and case studies of both rural and women's leadership programmes, across relevant sectors. Initial findings from this review are outlined below.

A series of interviews are also being conducted, focusing on participants' experiences as women in mid-level or leadership positions in different sectors; their career journeys; barriers or challenges they have faced; the skills, training and support networks that have benefitted them and their views on a leadership development programme for women in agriculture.

Research findings

The evidence review has highlighted the following:

  • women and men have different experiences in the workplace, and this has an impact on women's career progression and approach to leadership, which in turn has implications for the development of women's leadership programmes
  • leadership has traditionally been equated with 'masculine' behaviours and practices, and women in leadership face a number of challenges
  • a range of studies point to the need for women's leadership development programmes, as traditional programmes have failed to meet their needs. Research has found that women who are given opportunities to connect with other women and gain leadership knowledge are more likely to aspire for leadership roles
  • women-only leadership programmes have a range of benefits, including providing a safe environment for openness, self-reflection and learning. Participants should be given the opportunity to construct a leadership identity and practise using new skills
  • women's approaches to leadership will be shaped by multiple aspects of their identity, including class, race and disability. Leadership programmes should take participants' diverse perspectives into account, alongside specific challenges that women face in particular organisations or sectors
  • research highlights the importance of providing participants with diverse role models of women in leadership, and hearing them speak about their careers
  • women's leadership programmes should teach both practical skills and leadership theories, and lead to tangible outputs, such as mentoring relationships and networks. These programmes often use collaborative learning practices
  • widely used techniques within women's leadership courses include action learning, self-assessment tools, peer-to-peer feedback, role models and speakers, mentoring, networking, career planning exercises and leadership plans
  • wider literature highlights the role that organisations can play in ensuring that women's leadership development programmes are successful and sustainable in the long-term, and the need for wider change in addition to targeted programmes

Several women who have taken part in interviews about the 'Be Your Best Self' training pilot (see Section 3.1) have indicated their interest in applying for leadership programmes to gain further practical skills and develop their careers. As one stated, 'I want to put as much into my career as I can' and 'be a better manager'. Another, when asked what kind of skills she felt she would gain from the course, said:

'Confidence building, dealing with difficult conversations, staff management […] how to put your point of view across […] to senior management as well as staff, how to have these conversations that you need to have […]' (Interview 4)

Next steps

The initial research findings demonstrate the importance of women's leadership programmes in enabling women to gain the confidence and skills they need to articulate a leadership identity and progress in their careers.

The evidence review indicates the importance of considering: who to develop the programme for; designing a monitoring and evaluation plan; outlining a shared understanding of 'leadership'; acknowledging the barriers and challenges experienced by women in Scottish agriculture; inviting women in leadership positions to speak about their careers; and ensuring ongoing support and engagement from agricultural organisations.

Further interviews will be conducted in October-November 2021.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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