It is no secret that women are grossly underrepresented in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field as a 2015 study conducted by global nonprofit Catalyst showed that women only made up less than 24% those employed in STEM occupations in the US. For women of color, this gap is even wider as they only accounted for slightly less than 10% of working scientists and engineers. To celebrate National STEM Day, we talked to Daniera Thulin, senior product development manager at Mars Wrigley Confectionery to learn about her secrets to thrive in a male-dominated industry.
- Tell me about yourself. How did you get into the confectionery industry, particularly chocolate?
"I was always really interested in science and how human bodies work – I actually used to think I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid. It’s fascinating to think about all the ways science and food impact our lives on a day-to-day basis.
When I started at Mars, the company impressed me with the way it embraces science, as well as focusing on people and providing leadership and growth opportunities. This helped to further my passion for working in food science innovation and creating products that bring people joy, including some of our iconic confectionery brands!"
- What’s the most attractive part of working at a major chocolate company like Mars Wrigley Confectionery?
"The best part about my role at Mars Wrigley Confectionery is definitely the ideas that we always have flowing throughout the office – when you work with fellow innovators, there are always fresh, exciting, new ideas. Additionally, I love the focus on team collaboration that comes with working at such a large organization – I enjoy solving new problems with my teammates by my side."
- What’s your favorite chocolate product? Why?
"It’s always a toss-up between SNICKERS and M&M’s. SNICKERS has such a great texture with the crunch of the peanuts."
- I noticed you worked as a raw material productivity manager as part of Mars’ R&D team before. Tell us what it was like.
"Working on the R&D team, and a prior product development internship, helped me realize my dream of working on the confectionery brands that I’ve always loved. I learned about food science from a professor in college who encouraged me to explore an internship in this field. That’s when I realized that I not only wanted to grow, but to innovate, at Mars in this way."
- What do your daily responsibilities include now as senior manager of chocolate product development? What’s your favorite part and why?
"My very favorite part of my role is seeing my work come to life on the shelves at grocery stores. People don’t always realize all the work that goes into the food they eat, and I enjoy being a part of that magic-making process. Day-to-day, I work with my colleagues and brainstorm best ways to innovate, as well as ways to always keep quality and our principles top of mind in all that we do."
- What are some of the confectionery products you have helped develop? Can you give me a few examples?
"In my role, I lead a team that works on all of our bite size and molded chocolate products. This includes DOVE, AMERICAN HERITAGE and M&M’S.
"We’re always listening to our consumers and want to hear their feedback. M&M’s White Chocolate Peanut is one of the more recent innovations that came from my team. It’s really exciting to be able to offer something new for our M&M’s Peanut lovers!"
- Tell us about your experience of working in the STEM field. What are some of the biggest challenges and misunderstandings do you think women are facing in this field?
"It’s been really interesting to see how the space has changed throughout my career - my answer when I first started would’ve been completely different than it is now. Back when I started, both the labs and sites were very male-dominated. Mars has made it a priority to bring in, diverse talent across all of its business sectors – from Confectionery to Petcare and Food, there are so many unique, innovative roles that make Mars the great company that it is. Today, the majority of my team is made up of women from different backgrounds and ideas – it’s a small example of just how far the entire field has grown.
"Overall, there is still work to be done to show women the many different opportunities available in STEM. Just within Mars I’ve learned that career opportunities that include science, technology, math and engineering are vast. These opportunities go beyond the confectionery space, which many people may not realize – from veterinary careers that focus on creating a better world for pets, to food science that helps us source and create food that is good for us and good for pets, to engineering a more efficient supply chain that reduces our carbon footprint. It’s an exciting time to be a female in STEM!"
- What makes you think that women have a relatively lower rate of participation in STEM? What are some of the major hurdles?
"I think there’s opportunity for women in STEM that isn’t always taught or communicated at an early age. It’s no secret that education in science and STEM at a younger age is critical to development – often times, that’s less prioritized for young girls. Because of that, it’s not always easy to get comfortable in these practices as you get older. It’s all a matter of being confident in your abilities, and having a mentor and organization that helps you get there. Luckily, Mars is committed to providing that mentorship factor for women across the business."
- Are there any female models/figures who have inspired you to start a career in STEM?
"Broadly, my team at Mars Wrigley Confectionery encourages me to follow my passions and excel at STEM every single day. I was always drawn to science, but didn’t realize how many different disciplines in STEM were available to us. Mars, and my male and female mentors, encouraged me to find my interest, find new opportunities and pursue them. Specifically at Mars, Victor Nwosu has been an incredible mentor and advocate throughout my career here."
- What do you think women can do to support each other in the STEM field?
"I think that the best thing women can teach each other in the field is to foster a positive work-life harmony. And once you’ve achieved this harmony, it’s important to remind each other that there are no limits to what you can do. Also, it’s important to be ultra-aware of negative self-talk and remember there are ways you can improve, without feeling like you’ve failed. It’s a tough field, and it’s important for us to support each other whenever we can."
- Any closing comments?
"I’ll just say that my absolute favorite thing about my job – and I’ve been looking for a time to say this – is sharing my work with my friends and family. I’m always to looking for ways to tell others about the possibilities in the food science field, especially when it comes to inspiring the next generation."