Women in NFU Scotland - A Way Forward

With the role of women in agriculture currently a hot topic across various platforms, NFU Scotland Policy Manager Gemma Cooper outlines what the Union is doing to get more women involved in its activities.

In addition to this, Gemma also touches on the results of the Women In NFUS survey carried out with our membership earlier in the year to better understand how we as a Union can engage with membership on this issue.

As a result of the survey work is now being carried out with events to be hosted later in this year focusing on getting more women involved in Union activity and engaging with them across the regions.

The role of women in agriculture is a current hot topic, the debate around it wide ranging, and as with many issues with which NFU Scotland is involved, there is a myriad of strong opinion on all sides. There is some feeling that the Union must be more inclusive, however there are also those who caution against encouraging positive discrimination. The question remains as to where that line should ultimately be drawn.

As the largest representative organisation in the agricultural sector, NFU Scotland has come under some criticism for being male dominated, and we cannot deny that the presence of an all-male Board of Directors is not representative of the wider male/female sectoral split.  However, scratching beneath the surface of NFUS provides a wider context of a staff split of 60 per cent women to 40 per cent men, and 25 women currently engaged in roles within regions, six of whom are chairing their local branch. This aside, there is a recognition within NFUS that these women are the exceptions and not the rule, and we recognise that an evolution is needed.

As with anything NFU Scotland does, policy making is membership led.  Early in 2017, the Union carried out survey of our membership to understand how better to engage with women.  The response rate was excellent, and several key themes emerged from this. Respondents considered that their knowledge of Union structures was good, and there was a clear desire to be involved in roles at branch and monitor levels. It was felt that the largest barrier to women engaging with NFU Scotland was a perception of male dominance, perhaps something that internally we had suspected, but had not previously had confirmed.

Going hand in hand with this was the view, held by 89 per cent of respondents, that the best way to encourage greater engagement of women members was for NFU Scotland to have dedicated women in agriculture events.
So, what now for the internal mechanics of NFU Scotland? We have given the membership an opportunity to engage with us on this subject, there is a clear demand, and we recognise that evolution is required.

There are two things for NFU Scotland to consider; requirements for internal development, and requirements for external engagement.

Internally as a first step, the Union will host two pilot events in its Lothian and Borders and Argyll and Islands regions.  In addition to this, NFU Scotland will also be hosting an event in the Dumfries and Galloway region, with a more ‘women in dairy’ focus. These events will be, as requested, a mixture of policy and outside speakers, and held at lunchtimes and in the evenings.

In addition to this, NFU Scotland will be actively looking for women to become mentors regionally.  They will assist the Union in moving forward its policy in this area, as well as being examples for other women in their NFU Scotland region. They will be someone who others can go to for guidance and assistance.

Externally, following the launch of a women in agriculture research project last month, the First Minister has recently announced a taskforce to look at the recommendations made by the research report.  This will play a major role in shaping future policy in this area. We were pleased that NFU Scotland was approached to take part, and President Andrew McCornick has personally volunteered to participate, a role that I know he is looking forward to.

We will keep members updated as to how we progress with this important subject, and we are always interested to hear views. Change will not happen overnight, but it something that NFU Scotland is committed to achieving, watch this space!

Author: Gemma Cooper

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About The Author

Gemma Cooper

Gemma Cooper graduated from Harper Adams in 2005 and started her career in land management managing large sporting estates and fishings in Perthshire and Angus. Following this she worked as an agricultural and rural business consultant, with a specialism in farm diversification. She joined NFU Scotland in 2012 as Legal and Technical Policy Manager and was promoted to Head of Policy Team in 2018. Gemma is responsible for management and development of NFUS policy team functions. She retains a core legal and technical policy portfolio which includes subjects such as land reform, agricultural holdings law, access, rural communities and planning.

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