While women have traditionally been underrepresented in many STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, that is not the case for the science of food profession. In fact, nearly half (49%) of the membership of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is female. And last year when IFT teamed up with colleges and universities around the country for its Food Science Academic Knowledge Base survey, we learned that within the 11 leading food science programs that shared data on gender distribution, 70% of undergraduate food science majors were women. Asked about the factors that led them to choose a food science major, 44% of female undergraduates selected the response “I have always liked science.” So clearly, young women are interested in scientific disciplines and see opportunities in the science of food.
2017 Employment & Salary Survey showed that the gap between men’s and women’s salaries is narrowing. While women food scientists continue to earn just about 77 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts make, that’s up from 2015, when women’s food science compensation was 75% of men’s.
In addition, women’s salaries are growing faster than men’s. According to the survey, the 2017 median salary for women was $81,789, up 3.5%, versus a 1% increase to $106,000 for men. Bonuses for women also increased substantially; in 2017, the median bonus for women who received them was up 25% or $1,500 to $7,500. The median bonus for men increased by just $100, but at $15,000 was still twice the amount women received.
What is particularly exciting is the fact that younger women in the profession have achieved salary parity with men—something that has eluded older women. For men and women in their 20s, median food science salaries were equal at $60,000, the survey found. For women in their 30s, there was a relatively modest salary gap of 6%, while those in their 40s, 50s, and 60s experienced larger gaps.
The survey also showed that as the salary gap has narrowed, women have begun to feel better about their career opportunities in the science of food. Nearly half (46%) of respondents said that their opportunities were equal to those of men—a substantial increase from the 34% who responded that way in 2015.
Entrepreneurship is an increasingly significant area of opportunity in the food and beverage world. Statistics compiled recently for IFT’s Food Technology magazine by private capital market data provider PitchBook offered some interesting insight into how women are faring when it comes to securing funding for their startups. PitchBook’s analysis showed that across all industries, women-led companies in the United States received a disappointingly small share of venture capital in the first 11 months of 2018—just 2.4%. The picture is brighter in the food and beverage sector, however, where female-founded companies netted 8.4% of venture capital in that time frame. The investment pattern is consistent for the years from 2012 through 2018; while female food and beverage company founders received a share of venture funding that ranged from a low of 2.3% in 2015 to a high of 13.2% in 2017, the share of venture capital that went to women founders industry-wide never topped 3.2% during the same time frame.
It is gratifying to be able to share such positive improvements concerning opportunities for women in the food and beverage industry because as an organization, IFT is firmly committed to enabling diversity, inclusion, and equity. To that end, last year we added “Include” to the core group of strategic promises that guide our organization. Under this banner, we are working to ensure that we consistently leverage diversity and inclusion to advance our mission and the science of food. Holding fast to our vision of a world that is guided by these principles, IFT is proud to celebrate the important role of women in the science of food and to acknowledge the ways that they continue to move forward. We eagerly anticipate a time when parity in salaries and equity in opportunities are realities for all.
Food scientists and technologists encounter numerous challenges each day as they work to bring better, safer, tastier, and more nutritious foods to consumers. Tackling these challenges often requires critical thinking, teamwork, tenacity, and perhaps a little creativity. Acclaimed Chef Sean Sherman discovered a unique challenge early in his culinary career and drew inspiration to address it from an unlikely source – his heritage.
IFT hosted a Diversity and Inclusion Virtual Town Hall earlier this week, sharing key research findings, a set of core principles to guide our path forward, system-specific recommendations, and a request for member feedback.
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