Recently, the organization Quantum Women was officially launched. Based in Australia, this professional network provides support, empowerment, and opportunities to women all over the globe who are interested in quantum technology. This organization joins several others out there working to achieve higher diversity in the quantum industry and adjacent fields. To learn more about Quantum Women, I interviewed founders Biliana Rajevic, the Strategic Engagement Lead at QuintessenceLabs; and Irene Fernández de Fuentes, a 4th-year Ph.D. student at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
Fernández de Fuentes’ research is in designing the architecture for quantum processors, so her interests naturally drew her to the quantum industry. “I was interested in quantum technologies because the idea that we can engineer systems to explore quantum effects I find very powerful,” she said. “And even more, we can use those systems to solve problems that could otherwise not be solved due to a lack of computational power.” Studying at UNSW, Fernández de Fuentes has already seen the quantum ecosystem grow significantly in Australia. She hopes to have her own research add to this ecosystem. “I’m an experimental scientist. I make my own qubit devices on silicon chips, and I will either be fabricating these devices in a cleanroom or testing them in a dilution refrigerator. In particular, I’m investigating the benefits and limitations of these qubit architectures, and how we can improve their performance.”
In contrast, Rajevic does not design quantum systems but instead is fascinated by the possibilities and impact of the technology. “I’m interested from a commercial lens, looking at the practical applications,” she explained. “I’m also interested in what is the unknown human impact? I think, for me, it’s both scary and fascinating at the same time.” Rajevic entered the quantum industry through her work at the Sydney Quantum Academy. The possibilities of the technology fascinated her, and she wanted to learn more. “I would spend countless hours after work just trying to read up on what quantum actually is, and what these scientists do,” Rajevic stated. “And I would reread the same article literally 5 times and every time I’d learn something new. I believe everyone should try to reach a certain level of understanding about what quantum is.” Now working at Quintessence Labs, a cutting-edge company operating at the intersection of cyber security and quantum technology, Rajevic feels she can fully satiate her interests. “I have a dream job. Every day I get to apply my many years of global experience across strategy, corporate advisory, and business development, tied in with quantum and cyber security,” she added. With her interests driving her, Rajevic began looking for other women in this field, including Fernández de Fuentes.
Finding a large group of interested women in Australia gave Rajevic hope about the quantum industry itself. “I’ve worked in a very male-dominated environment my entire career,” she said. “And that includes investment banking in New York and London, and working in the tech startup industry. I look back over the last 25 years and see how very little has changed, and that makes me sad, to be honest. But Quantum Women is working on that. One of our pillars is Elevate. That means we really want to actively work with, let’s say, public event organizers and others to assure greater female representation on panels and in other events. That’s not something that requires years of change but can happen now. And we’re working toward that.”
Looking at the quantum landscape, Fernández de Fuentes also saw that there was work to be done, especially in how women are viewed. “My biggest goal is to eliminate the stereotypes,” she elaborated, “When you’re a female in a male-dominated space, the boundaries that society sets for you, simply for being of a certain gender, get amplified and you can really feel powerless sometimes. It’s a very subtle thing.” With Quantum Women, Fernández de Fuentes knows that she has a way to help break these stereotypes and open the door for more women to come into the industry. “Creating equal opportunities is the first step to establishing an environment where you can actually educate and promote the idea that what you’re doing is what you should be doing if you have chosen it freely.”
Looking back on the launch of Quantum Women, both Rajevic and Fernández de Fuentes saw that the new organization has already helped to make an impact. According to Rajevic, “One of the attendees came up to us afterward and said: ‘I don’t feel so alone anymore.’ So, it’s good to know we’re here as a community to help give strength and inspiration and immediately have an impact.”
Though Quantum Woman is based in Australia, it is open to anyone to join from around the world. With this organization and others working to level the playing field, the quantum industry can move forward knowing that there are networks of support out there for anyone who needs them.