The number of women in agriculture and food-related business — especially in management positions — is much lower than originally thought, according to a recent survey of 81 companies.

The three-part survey, “Changing Demographics and Experience of Women in Agribusiness,” was conducted by consulting firm HighQuest Partners, Danvers, Mass.

The first part provides baseline data from 81 participating companies along the agri-business value chain, according to a news release.

The second and third parts, which involve 142 companies, examine women’s attitudes and experiences as well as the existing programs for recruitment, retention and advancement.

According to the baseline survey, about 44% of the agribusiness labor force is women, which represents a “fair state of gender equality,” according to study author Sarah Day Levesque.

But the data also show that women face challenges advancing in careers, particularly in larger companies.

Almost half of all ag degree graduates are women, yet they account for only 30% of what the report called “commercially focused positions,” such as procurement, production and risk management.

At the executive level, including chief executive officers, women hold only 21% of the positions in small companies and only 6% in larger companies, according to the survey.

On the other hand, women comprise 82% of marketing, administrative and human resources positions.

Other findings from the survey’s first phase include:

A higher percentage of women advance to senior positions in small companies.

Slightly less than 20% of agribusinesses have programs to recruit women.

The most common recruitment strategy concentrates on universities with ag- or food-related programs.

A complete synopsis of the study will be presented at the Women in Agribusiness Summit, Oct. 22-24, in Minneapolis.