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On the surface, the science of food is trending in the right direction. The profession has become more diverse, and salaries reached a 20-year high in 2022, as noted in IFT’s recently released 2022 Compensation and Career Path Report, which draws from two recent surveys each comprised of more than 3,000 respondents. Median salaries for science of food professionals in the U.S. rose 16% from $95,000 to $110,000 between 2019 and 2022—the first double-digit increase since 2003. In addition, the overall salary gap between men and women is the lowest it has been since IFT started tracking the salaries of men and women working in the science of food in 1966.
But beneath the surface, there are potentially concerning data points that HR, DEI, and science of food professionals’ managers must prioritize. Notably, there are five key factors driving job unrest in the science of food: work/life balance challenges, lack of supportive management, career development barriers, job stress, and unsatisfactory salary and benefits. Nearly one-quarter of respondents indicated they had pursued other employment over the past two years and more than 20% believe they are unlikely to stay in their current role over the next five years.
What steps can science of food managers take to address these issues? It starts with one of the industry’s longstanding issues—the salary disparity between men and women.
Female respondents noted they still lag significantly behind their male counterparts (21% lower) despite outnumbering men in the science of food for nearly a decade. Men dominate top compensation from age 25 onward, with an average top salary for men of $177,000 between the ages of 45-54 and a top salary of approximately $140,000 for women starting at age 55.
However, age comparison shows younger female professionals (19-24) on average earn more than their same-aged male counterparts. This aligns with a broader trend of higher salaries for younger professionals. Due to a competitive employment landscape that has made it a job-seeker's market, companies are financially incentivizing novice employees as salaries for professionals with one year or less of experience increased 33% from $58,000 to $77,000, according to survey respondents.
As Food Technology executive editor Mary Ellen Kuhn notes in the first episode of IFT’s new Omnivore podcast, this could be due to a lower number of food science majors in their senior year at colleges and universities.
That heightened focus on attracting new talent has created issues with veteran employees potentially feeling underappreciated—28% of respondents noted they had not received a pay increase or bonus in the last 12 months and nearly half of survey respondents indicated they generate income from secondary work outside their primary job. Outside work is more common for education professionals who represent the lowest earning group with an average salary of approximately $100,000. C-suite executives, owners, and partners represented the highest-earning group at more than $215,000.
While the net promoter score (NPS) for science of food professionals is high as employees indicate they would recommend the profession, challenges remain, and managers must stay on top of the latest culture and compensation trends if they want to attract and retain top talent at their respective organizations.
To download the report, go to www.ift.org/salarysurvey. The cost is $179 but IFT Premier, Student, and Emeritus Members can receive it for free, while Networking and Engagement Members can download it at a discount.
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