I was pleased to be quoted recently in this Food Technology Magazine article about my experience with salary disparity between men and women in the food industry. The article is well written, but you might be interested to read the full text of my comments. Below are both the questions asked by the magazine and my answers.
FT: The salary survey showed the persistence of a gender salary gap, with women earning just 79% of the male median salary—and with the gap being even greater for women in the mid-career, 45-54 year-old age group. I was wondering how your experience in the industry aligned with those findings.
First, thank you digging into this subject instead of printing something to the effect that “there is a pay gap, but not for younger women, so things are improving”. As you hopefully know, it has been this way since I started working in 1979. Men and women start out even but the gap grows the longer they work. Frankly, as a mother of three, I completely understand working part time or taking a less demanding job while caring for children. But the fact that once childrearing is over, the gap does not reverse, but only gets bigger as women get older, is really frustrating and evidence of the true extent of inequality.
I also hope we can refrain from “blaming the victim” by talking about how women don’t ask for raises, don’t “lean in” enough, are not assertive enough, are too assertive, have shrill voices, don’t toot their own horn enough, talk too much, are absent a lot, etc., etc. Some of these things could be true of some people but they are not the root of the problem.
So talking about my own experience only, does my experience in the industry align with those findings? Yes I think so, though I don’t often know what others are earning. I know that some men doing similar consulting to what I do demand a considerably higher hourly rate that mine.
FT: What factors do I see contributing to the gender salary gap?
I think some are societal and some are specific to the food industry.
Societal factors are: 1) lack of female American role models, even in mythology, 2) requirement that by default, women must work within organizational structures that were developed by (and favor) men, 3) lack of support for pregnancy and family leave, 4) shortage of high quality, affordable child care, 5) shortage of opportunities for girls and women to learn supervisory skills, and possibly the root of it all 6) lack of respect for women in general.
Factors specific to the food industry are: 1) lingering “good old boy” network (with associated mental, verbal and physical abuse), 2) women seem to be concentrated in R&D and Quality assurance jobs which tend to pay less than management and production (“knowing” is valued less than “doing”), 3) female role models concentrated in academia (and marketing, though they are seldom food scientists).
FT: With women playing such a prominent role in the profession, why does this gap still exist?
The gap exists because the factors listed above are unresolved. I think with more women entering the field, it could actually make the situation worse because the men are more competitive. As is abundantly clear from the news, the American “cowboy culture” is alive and well, and men will not give up power easily. Are women really “playing such a prominent role in the profession”, or are they doing all the work while the men hold onto the real power?
On a positive note, I will say that the working environment has improved a lot during my career. Though there are still a few “dinosaurs” out there, generally the harassment, inuendo, dirty jokes, and physical and mental abuse are over. I really enjoy working with young people now days. The women are so well educated and the men are much more civilized and considerate than male co-workers I remember from the 80’s and 90’s!
And lastly, for 13 years early in my career, I worked closely with food scientists in Central America, Europe and Asia. Interestingly, I found the men there more respectful to me than American men. And in many places, the women (again mostly in R&D or QA), seemed to me better at supervision than American women, I think, because they had experience supervising domestic staff at home.