Life at PepsiCo

Women in STEM: A place to make your mark

Cliona Murphy headshot Cl
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Opportunity. Innovation. Excitement. These are just some of the reasons why one of PepsiCo’s top engineers, a global vice president, wants more women in STEM to follow her lead.

Cliona Murphy

Vice President, Global Quality Assurance


When you hear “STEM,” you probably don’t think about food production. Most people don’t. After all, you don’t need an advanced degree to cook breakfast. But when you’re making foods and beverages for millions of people, like PepsiCo does, it requires rigorous science, engineering, technology and math.

In my time at PepsiCo, I’ve worked on some of the biggest innovations across our brands. For one, I partnered with PepsiCo U.S. to design an advanced process control system for snacks lines. Now more than 40% of PepsiCo’s potato chip capacity uses this technology.

Murphy and colleagues toast to the opening of the Research and Development (R&D) Nutrition Fruit and Vegetable Center in Cork, Ireland.

But beyond the science and technology, what is so exciting about working in STEM at PepsiCo is the creativity.

To solve some of the really big challenges our company faces, we don’t just do it with great science and engineering. We don’t force people to choose between their right brain and left brain; we use both the left side and the right side of our brains.

I’ve been inside people’s houses from London to Lahore to see what is in their fridge and how they prepare food. I’ve worked with chefs from San Francisco to Shanghai to create prototype products for consumers.

One of the most fun experiences I ever had was when I lived in China and traveled the length and breadth of that country eating everything from fried scorpion to deliciously delicate sea urchin to steamed dumplings. The goal was to better understand the cuisine, flavors and textures — which would in turn inform new product development.

And honestly there really is nothing quite like the buzz of developing a food or beverage product and seeing people enjoying it.

Murphy has travelled around the globe meeting other PepsiCo team members and tasting all types of cuisine to develop new flavors for PepsiCo products.

But it’s not just mouthwatering recipes that get me fired up. I’m also passionate about supporting girls and women to step into careers at PepsiCo in the STEM sector — just like I did.

STEM is essential to the opportunity, innovation and excitement that define PepsiCo. For the data analysis behind our consumer insights, the food science in our products, the environmental engineering in our manufacturing plants or the systems that underpin how we run the business, STEM professionals are at the heart of how this great company operates.

PepsiCo provides a unique opportunity to leverage STEM disciplines that affect everybody.

Consider innovation. Nothing at PepsiCo stays precisely the same for long. Different tastes. Different textures. Different ingredients. Different packaging. The change that goes into our portfolio never stops — and STEM talent and thinking turns these changes from thoughts to genuine innovation.

Consider sustainability. Once upon a time, scientists realized that plastics could provide safety, affordability, portability and freshness to packaged goods.

But then we realized plastics came with a steep and unanticipated environmental cost — which today all of us are worried about. In the future, plastic can still offer all of those benefits, but we’ve got to figure out a way to substantially reduce its environmental impact. And guess who will be the people to do that? STEM experts. In fact, we’re doing it right now at PepsiCo.

And it doesn’t stop there. Talented people with STEM skills are crucial to PepsiCo’s nutrition and sustainability agenda. You could play a part in inventing a new way to save water, energy or time. You might help farmers figure out how to mitigate the effects of climate change. You might change the world for the better.

In my current leadership role, I direct the PepsiCo Global Quality Assurance Organization, a team of extremely talented engineers and scientists across the world who ensure through robust quality systems design and implementation that our products reach our consumers as intended, every bag and every sip.

Photo of a group at a women in STEM conference

Murphy with members of her team at a STEM conference.

I am based in the Cork R&D center, which has become a STEM destination within PepsiCo. I’m proud to say we have over 15 nationalities represented within our labs, and every year we have a disproportionately high number of global rotation assignees from Research & Development.

This is partly due to the breadth of the R&D work that we do in Cork, the well-equipped laboratories, the availability of STEM talent and the ease with which global roles can be housed here because the time zone is conducive to working with all geographies so we can truly be a global hub for a multinational company like PepsiCo.

The Cork team is also amazing thanks to a very active Vitality group, Women’s Inclusion Network and STEM Council that all place a big emphasis on supporting employee development — especially among women.

It’s funny now to think back on my decision to be an engineer. When I was choosing what to study at university, it was a toss-up between an engineering or a law degree. I opted for engineering because I was interested in how things worked, I liked logic and, to be honest, not many girls did engineering and I wanted to be a bit different.

Thanks to the amazing career I’ve had at PepsiCo, I’ve never regretted my choice.

Cliona Murphy is vice president, Global Quality Assurance for PepsiCo, where she is responsible for ensuring the high standards of all PepsiCo products. An early advocate for flexible work and work-life balance, she has been a positive force in PepsiCo’s efforts toward gender parity and leads the global Million Women Mentors program, which inspires young women to study, work and stay in STEM.