Editor’s View: Strong case for staying serious about sexism

This week, Farmers Weekly reveals the results of our research into perceptions of women in agriculture.

We asked both men and women for their views on the extent to which there is equality between the sexes in the workplace.

More than 1,900 of you responded, and the survey launch also generated a huge amount of discussion.

See also: Editor’s view: Which of farming’s camps do you sit in?

About the author

Andrew Meredith
Farmers Weekly editor
Andrew has been Farmers Weekly editor since January 2021 after doing stints on the business and arable desks. Before joining the team, he worked on his family’s upland beef and sheep farm in mid Wales and studied agriculture at Aberystwyth University. In his free time he can normally be found continuing his research into which shop sells London’s finest Scotch egg.
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Views ranged across the spectrum – from delight that this was a topic we were finally tackling again, to dismay that we are even asking the question.

Some said they regarded the topic closed as there is now no barrier to women reaching the peak of our profession.

Others grumbled that a drive towards equality means we risk a bland future where differing roles for the sexes are extinguished to the detriment of both.

To those, my response is this: There would have been those who said “now is not the time” had we attempted to conduct this research at any point between our founding in 1934 and the present day.

There are plenty of topics our industry is tackling that are complex, nuanced and naturally divide opinion, and Farmers Weekly intends to put them front and centre rather than brush them under the carpet.

It is a mark of strength for our industry if contentious topics can be debated honourably.

So in that spirit, allow me to express an opinion: The fact that women are now able to reach the highest echelons of our industry, in a way that would have been almost impossible only a generation ago, is to be celebrated.

But it is a low bar; there is more to do.

Our survey respondents tell us that men’s perception of how our industry treats women is strikingly different to women’s, with six out of 10 saying industry attitude is preventing them from achieving their goals.

Women are more likely to describe workplace culture as unhealthy, and are about twice as likely to recommend a young man to join the industry than a young woman.

So while acknowledging that progress has been made, it is right to shine a light on where the disparities remain and discuss what can be done about them.

That will be the job of our Level the Field campaign this year. I hope it will show that there is a moral case to be made for improvement, but also a financial case.

Those businesses that do better at this will have access to a more diverse pool of talent that research shows improves performance – and employees or family members will reward the right support with loyalty and graft.

The campaign will not attempt to herd you towards a sunlit utopia where everyone gets what they want. Equality is not about giving someone an easy ride.

It is about allowing as many people as possible to ride the bucking bronco of British agriculture with a saddle that fits. Plenty will still get thrown off into the nettles.

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