ColdQuanta is the latest company looking to help the quantum industry become more vocal about diversity in the industry. In a recent panel discussion titled “Navigating the System,” ColdQuanta hosted speakers from government bodies, the quantum industry, and the technology sector to discuss ways to advocate for women in the workplace. The speakers included Maëva Ghonda (Founder and chair of Quantum AI Institute), Cathy Foley (Australia’s Chief Scientist), Lakshmi Raman (Head of AI at the CIA), Mackenzie Lystrup (Vice President and General Manager of Civil Space at Ball Aerospace), and Dr. Talitha Washington (Director of AUC Data Science Initiative and Professor of Mathematics at Clark Atlanta University). The panel was moderated by Laura Thomas, Vice President of corporate strategy at ColdQuanta.
The panel was introduced by a recorded video of Colorado governor Jared Polis. Governor Polis has been one of the biggest supporters of the Colorado quantum industry, helping to secure a recent round of funding for Colorado’s universities and research institutions as part of the $1.5 trillion federal appropriations omnibus bill for the 2022 fiscal year. In his video, Governor Polis spoke on the gender gap in the technology industry, stating that it was “wider in the quantum industry.” He mentioned his current legislation plans for helping to close this gap, including beginning an initiative that would offer free preschool for all Coloradoans in the fall of 2023, saving an average household around $4,000.
As childcare has been a large barrier for many women to overcome to advance their careers, it is encouraging to see many different groups working toward lowering this barrier, such as the Netherlands launching its first quantum childcare pilot program. Several of the female panelists spoke on their experiences of being a mother while balancing a career in the sciences. Panelist Dr. Talitha Washington recounted a story of when she was working on her dissertation and telling a colleague: “I’m pregnant, I’m not disabled.” Her story ended on an inspirational note as she said: “You either win or you learn from your mistakes.”
While the panel discussion ranged from topics of impostor syndrome to challenges, all of the panelists spoke on the lack of women in this industry. Dr. Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, explained how she had been the “token female” on many government panels and boards during her career. “I hate being on my own,” she explained, “I love working with other women.” Panelist Lakshi Raman, the head of AI at the CIA, echoed this sentiment, labeling the feeling as “emotional fatigue” to be the only woman. Nearly all the panelists spoke on how the lack of females causes a lack of visibility, as women don’t feel they have role models, or certain individuals aren’t represented. Foley even brought up the lack of discussion around menopause and other life events that make it difficult to work, stating that these events are “not discussed” at all and should be to help the workplace be more accommodating.
The panel had a rather high turnout, bringing individuals from various industries and backgrounds to hear more about ways to advocate for women in the workplace. Events like this panel show that the quantum industry is becoming more aware of the issue, and slowly taking steps toward fixing it. But with current costs to learn the technology being so high, as panelist Maëve Ghonda explained, the barriers for women and other minorities are high. Because of this, it will take a significant amount of time and effort to make the industry more diverse. But conversations like the ColdQuanta panel discussion give an important first step in the journey towards getting there.