Farming missing out on talented women

The Royal Highland Show recognised the importance of women in the traditional male world of farming with the launch of the 'Women in Agriculture' taskforce.

The launch closely followed the publication of the research report by 'Women in Farming', which was published by the Scottish Government. The report highlighted the major role played by women in Scottish agriculture. It also highlighted the barriers that still remain when women attempt to enter the farming industry, further their careers, and strive for promotion to leadership positions.

The report recommended the introduction of a system to enable women to progress to more senior roles, and the establishing of a bank of well qualified women for senior positions. This would aid in identifying women mentors who would be able to support both male and female apprentices in the farming sector.

This new taskforce will be shared by two people, namely Joyce Campbell and Fergus Ewing. Ms Campbell is an advocate for the sheep industry and farms at Armadale. Mr Ewing is Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.

Researchers from Newcastle University and Scotland’s James Hutton Institute say that the vital contribution women make towards the industry in Scotland should be recognised. They have said further that they would recommend a quota system in leadership elections being set in place with agricultural organisations, so that there is a better representation of women. They have also called for traditional practises of inheritance to be challenged. The inheritance practice means that farms are passed on to one son only.

The research was led by Professor Sally Shortall of Newcastle’s University Centre for Rural Economy, who stated that although the farming industry relies heavily on the contribution that women make, it is difficult for them to progress. Likewise, the entrance of new women into the sector is being curtailed, and the industry is missing out on the many talents of young women.

Ms Shortall said that if the training programmes were more welcoming to women entrants, more would be attracted to the sector and stay longer, thereby fulfilling their true potential. With better equipment design – so that farm work is not dependant on brawn – the industry as a whole, would become safer for everyone, and women could take on traditional male roles if they chose to.

Talking about inheritance, Ms Shortall said that if assumptions about inheritance were broken down, and not assumed, it would mean more equality and more choices made in farming families.

The report is the first to delve deeper into gender issues in Scottish agriculture, and the need to face the challenges it brings. The report sets out tools to improve the involvement of women in farming and leadership within the sector. At present, there are over 1,300 women who live and work on farms in Scotland.

Professor Wayne Powell, Principal of Scotland’s Rural College, and also a part of the taskforce, stated that SRUC is committed to equality and diversity. They are striving to ensure that women are represented fairly across the Scottish rural sector.


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