No one understands the importance of diversity in the quantum workforce better than Denise Ruffner. She is the founder and leader of Women in Quantum (WIQ), a global organization that encourages and supports women working in the quantum industry. “At Women in Quantum, we’re helping people gain business skills who may have an academic background but did not necessarily learn these skills in graduate school, only some of us learned them later in life,” Ruffner said. “So, we’re giving them that experience a little earlier in their career.”
WIQ began shortly after Ruffner found a position as Chief Business Officer for a UK-based startup. She received many messages from women on LinkedIn.com requesting career advice. Ruffner spoke with her colleague Andre Konig, CEO of OneQuantum, on what to do about helping these women. “Andre suggested that I form a community. And I responded, ‘What’s that? How do I do it?’ And he replied, ‘Don’t worry, you need to start with a website, I’ll do it.’… A week later, we had a website.
“Then people began signing up, and we began hosting summit meetings, and from there it has evolved into a vibrant community. What’s interesting is that WIQ has over 9,000 community followers today.” They come from all over the world and represent many career levels. According to Ruffner: “WIQ has always worked very hard to have women with diverse backgrounds speak at our summits. We have women that are in various career stages: from high school to graduate school, to postdocs, and even after. However, I don’t always go to the stratosphere and pick big names to speak, as I don’t want to overwhelm attendees. I want people to feel like they can have a career in quantum and can relate to each and every speaker.”
Registration at the quarterly WIQ summit is large and the virtual events are popular. Besides these motivational meetings, WIQ offers career fairs, mentorship programs, and excellent opportunities for networking. “We offer a brilliant mentoring program for mentors and mentees,” Ruffner explained. “For those considering being a mentor, this is where we need to do myth-busting, as you don’t need to be the president of a company or a professor to be a mentor, you could just be someone who wants to share a point of view. And that’s valuable. So, I encourage those considering applying to be a mentor with WIQ as a first step.” The WIQ mentorship program is accessible to anyone and helps inspire the next generation of the quantum workforce.
WIQ also offers successful career fairs. “Right now we have probably 500 or 600 resumes,” Ruffner stated. “It’s a combination of both women and men. We are trying to help people find jobs. Job-finding is not a skill that is generally taught in graduate school. We’re trying to help people bridge that gap. As part of the career fair, each company that participates has time to talk about their company as well as meet with candidates. It helps build comfort in applying to that company.”
Ruffner has found that the career fair allows women to gain confidence when doing job interviews and completing applications. “Women are a little tentative sometimes to try for that job they have always dreamed of. A lot of what we do at our Women in Quantum summits is help encourage women to try for new goals. For example, if there’s a job listing, and you have 50% of the skills, most women say, ‘I shouldn’t apply for it.’ We encourage them to try for these jobs.”
Ruffner found herself changing her own thinking when she initially began work in the quantum industry. “I worked at IBM on high-performance computing and life sciences. Then the quantum team asked for me. I had to really think about it because I am not a physicist. I ended up moving onto the IBM quantum team because I realized that I would have the opportunity to learn something new every day. That was really energizing for me, as I had a lot to learn. And I liked that.”
Ruffner has since transitioned to her current position as Chief Business Officer of Atom Computing. She hopes that WIQ will not only continue to support women in the quantum industry but will chip away at the rugged landscape to make it an even playing field.
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