THE AGRICULTURAL industry could have a far stronger voice if women were given the full recognition that they rightfully deserve – that was one of the clear messages delivered by the Women In Agriculture Taskforce on Wednesday evening at Ingliston. Announcing their recommendations for the future of women in the sector - they sent a sharp wake-up call that a culture change is needed in the industry, calling for more inclusivity and a wider range of voices at the decision-making table.

The Scottish Government will be providing £250,000 in funding towards new pilot training courses which are geared towards building women’s confidence within various aspects of agriculture. The first pilot – ‘Be your best self’ is open for applications and will offer four training sessions to 20 women, with the aim of encouraging those with an interest in agriculture to discover their true value and learn how to handle difficult conversations. The contract for the pilot been awarded through Public Contracts Scotland to Sheila Campbell-Lloyd of Inner Works Coaching.

Two further courses will be available for applications in the spring, including a business course which hopes to empower women to confidently make financial decisions and a third course focusing on leadership development.

RSABI’s chief executive Nina Clancy is part of the Taskforce committee and was deeply involved with developing the leadership pilot: “We want to give women the confidence to put themselves forward for future industry leading roles, as well as to have the confidence to enact change in their local community. Through the leadership training pilot we will provide advice on steps women can take to tap into their leadership potential as for many it’s about recognising that they have the skills but the right support will help give them a louder voice. Most importantly we ask women to put their name down and to register an interest in these courses as we want to make sure the right people are taking part in this opportunity,” she urged.

Succession was one of the major areas reviewed by the Taskforce and highlighted a need for a culture change as Nina explained: “We found that many young women don’t expect to be involved in discussions around succession as there is an acceptance of male siblings taking on the family business. We want to be able to empower women to question this culture and to start asking these important questions and recognise the value they have to offer.”

She insisted that the report isn’t to be seen as ‘men bashing’: “Women can be a huge part of the culture problem, preventing women from fulfilling their potential and we need the whole industry to step up and work together to tackle this issue.”

Outside the three pilot recommendations, there will be a further taster course on ‘unconscious bias training’ aimed initially at agricultural businesses and will address how they should support inclusivity in the workplace.

Fellow committee member and chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates Sarah-Jane Laing has been behind the development of an equality charter for Scottish agriculture that will be mainstreamed into all Scottish Government agricultural and related policies: “This isn’t about enforcing legislation or quotas but about making people and businesses think about their behaviour and how they might currently be stifling progress through not embracing a diverse range of voices within their business. We are strongly urging them to commit to delivering inclusivity as part of their business model and normalising this as business best practice.”

Commenting on the lack of women involved in agricultural boards she added: “Women don’t want to be involved in the industry for anything other than merit, but some fantastic women are reluctant to come forward and we can’t shy away from the fact that intervention is needed. Women only training courses aren’t about segregation but about recognising that women might not come forward as they lack confidence and we need to ensure they have the opportunity to access training if they are to tap in to their full potential. Ms Laing concluded: “People shouldn’t feel threatened by our messages but we do want people to feel uncomfortable and realise that a culture change is needed in agriculture and it doesn’t make business sense to be cutting out potential talent and expertise."

Co-chair of the Taskforce and rural Economy secretary Fergus Ewing added: “It is neither acceptable nor business savvy for the agricultural industry to be so male dominated. Male-only structures and boards must be consigned to the past, as Scottish agriculture simply cannot afford to leave women behind. There are many women working in Scottish agriculture who have the ability, creativity and determination to drive the industry forward. Scottish agriculture must include and involve their talents more fully and equitably."