SCOTTISH women working in agriculture face sexism and gender stereotyping, a report has found.

Female workers described feeling like the “token woman” in the industry, that there was an “assumption” all farmers are men, and there was an expectation they would “go off on maternity leave” amongst male colleagues, a report released by the Scottish Government said.

The "Women in Agriculture: Leadership programme development research" report investigated various initiatives and training courses to ensure women are better represented in agriculture and progress into senior roles.

Research conducted in 2017 found that there is a severe lack of women in leadership positions in the agricultural industry, and that women are also under-represented on industry bodies and national-level farming organisations.

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The Scottish Agricultural Census in 2021 found that 40% of all working spouses and occupiers on farms are female, while 60% are male.

The follow up research released on Tuesday found that leadership programmes and initiatives helped to build confidence, skills and networking, but also that many found it challenging to earn respect in a male-dominated industry.

And, the interview portion of the research found that women working in agriculture repeatedly face sexism and gender stereotyping, further excluding them from progressing and accessing top jobs.

The report explains: “In describing the 'underlying sexism' she has experienced in the industry, one said: 'It's not malicious, it's often quite unintended, but it's quite corrosive.'

“Gender stereotyping still takes place.”

One interviewee described how she believed it was “thoughtlessness” that women don’t want to be involved, and that the presumption is that farmers are men.

“Some participants felt that this type of gender bias has led to a lack of flexible working options, and a poor work-life balance in the industry,” the report added.

“There was a shared perception that this can be a 'barrier' for women in various roles, including those in leadership. In terms of dealing with the types of situations described above, several participants described humour as a strategy for coping with sexism.”

One respondent said she felt “indoctrinated into the male mindset” at times, and that male colleagues can forget she is in the room and let slip the “odd sexist remark”.

The woman, who was not named, added: “And I'll just laugh […] in some ways it is a part of life, but there is a line.”

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Another interviewee said that women in the industry face the perception that they lack experience, and have to prove themselves to gain respect.

The unnamed woman said: “If you go into any position as a man, it's assumed that you can do it until you prove otherwise, and I think when you go in as a woman, it's assumed that you probably can't do it, until you prove otherwise.

“In agriculture, you've got to be respected […] but that isn't immediate, you've got to develop that.”

Women also said they believed that while men do have a role to play in being “open to change” they were critical of positive action, such as targets to have 50% female representation on boards, as many felt they will be viewed as being given the role just because of their gender.

The National: Carol McKenna brands young sheep on Gass Farm on September 5, 2013 in Kirkcowan, Scotland. Carol McKenna brands young sheep on Gass Farm on September 5, 2013 in Kirkcowan, Scotland. (Image: Getty)

“As one stated, women need to 'do the work themselves, not rely on others',” the report added.

The report concluded that women in leadership role in agriculture, as well as other sectors, face challenges overcoming sexism.

“This includes encountering and overcoming sexism, speaking up at meetings, handling difficult conversations and having to work harder to gain people's respect,” the report said.

Gemma Cooper, National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland head of policy, welcomed the report and said their leadership programmes provide a “vital bridge” for female workers in the industry.

She said: “As an organisation, we want to create opportunities to allow potential to be realised, through developing talents, honing skills and enabling progression across the scores of vital roles that need the best to shine.

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“The report clearly identifies areas for further work and NFU Scotland will continue to work with all WiA [Women in Agriculture] partners to enhance the opportunities for all women working within Scottish agriculture.

“There is a wealth of talent both already within the sector and as yet undiscovered. “The growing variety of training and development opportunities within the sector including the ‘Be Your Best Self ‘programme and the ‘Growing Tomorrow’s Leaders’, the latter of which the Union co-sponsors, need to be accessible and effective in enabling women in agriculture to succeed.”

Mairi Gougeon, Rural Affairs Secretary, said: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting women living and working in rural Scotland, by helping them to increase their skills and contribution to Scotland’s rural economy.

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“The research that has been published today will inform how we will develop leadership opportunities for women in agriculture going forward.”

Gougeon added that the Women in Agriculture Practical Training Fund has been “hugely popular” in providing funding for courses for women and girls.

“In 2022-23 we provided grant support to the Scottish Association Of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) to develop and deliver board training programme for their current and incoming Board of Trustees,” she added.

“The training assisted the SAYFC to become more inclusive and diverse; supporting Board members to increase and strengthen their leadership skills as the next generation of farming leaders.”