As we celebrate Global Diversity Awareness Month in October, we can take note of the progress we have made so far, but it is clear that we still have work to do to live up to our promise to embrace all people in the science of food.
The Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the forefront the significant racial injustice that continues to exist in our world today. It has illuminated the need for change and given us the opportunity to reflect on our actions and behaviors, not only in terms of race, but also gender, age, ethnicity, ability, and sexual orientation. It has challenged us to ask hard questions. What does the data say about what we have accomplished, or not, in the science of food? Do we measure up to today’s expectations? What changes are needed to dismantle discrimination of all types in our organizational systems and the food system as a whole?
Over the last 20 years, the landscape of the profession has changed quite a bit from a diversity standpoint. According to the National Science Board, the number of women in science and engineering occupations or with science and engineering bachelor’s level degrees has doubled over the past two decades. Within IFT, we are almost evenly split from a gender perspective, with 52% of our membership identifying as males and 48% identifying as females. Although this shows progress, there is still room for improvement. In terms of race, we are actively working to compile and analyze member data, but we know that people of color are significantly underrepresented within our membership. That needs to change quickly with determined efforts.
Embracing diversity is about more than increasing representation and measuring it. We need to welcome and appreciate people who are different from ourselves and redistribute power and influence so that every voice is heard and counts. Four years ago, IFT took a critical first step—convening a diversity and inclusion task force to assess IFT’s current state and future needs. Two years ago, we added Include as our fifth strategic promise—a formal commitment to leverage DEI within IFT to advance our mission and the science of food. Since then, we have consistently worked to incorporate DEI principles into the organization from a people and process perspective. Among the highlights:
• Assembled a diverse group of IFT members to identify opportunities for the organization to prioritize and foster inclusiveness in its operational systems.
• Updated the process used for selecting scientific sessions for the annual event that encourage and support greater DEI in content, presenters, and panels, while continuing to prioritize scientific excellence.
• Revised the criteria and selection process for the IFT Achievement Awards to ensure we continue to honor the most deserving individuals, teams, and organizations for their contributions to the science of food.
• Introduced DEI Discussions, an ongoing series of live virtual workshops that address fostering a DEI culture.
While each of these actions represents a step in the right direction, we can’t be successful as an association until we embrace DEI at a level where all of our behaviors align with those principles. In our 80-year history, only 11 IFT presidents have been female and none were people of color. The Nicolas Appert Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed upon a science of food professional, has been given to only one woman since its inception! We are pleased to share the addition of IFT’s newest award–the Include Award–which will recognize the work of an individual or organization in the science of food to advance DEI. It’s a positive step, but there is more work to be done.
We recognize the most meaningful step we can take is to assess how our own systems replicate discriminatory practices that are present in our society. We then must take actions toward shifting our mindset to be able to step back and genuinely include communities that have not been traditionally represented in positions of influence.
If we are going to help the world meet the challenges of feeding 9 billion people in 2050, it is essential to fully embrace and leverage the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do. Join me in these efforts. We welcome your input and suggestions.