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Fledgling quantum industry is heavily male dominated, finds report

06 Apr 2023
Inequality portrait
Not a super position: research has found that just 1 in 54 applications for jobs in the quantum sector are female (courtesy: iStock/JDawnink)

The burgeoning quantum industry is heavily male-dominated and action must be taken to make its workforce more diverse and inclusive. That is the conclusion of a report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), which finds that fewer than 2% of applicants for quantum jobs are female. The lack of women, the report argues, means that the industry is missing out on talent, innovation and productivity.

Quantum science – like other fields linked to physics and computing – struggles with representation and diversity, the LSE report says. According to findings from the recruitment company Quantum Futures, which are highlighted in the report, just one in 54 applications for jobs in the quantum sector are female. Meanwhile, 80% of quantum companies do not have any senior female figures.

The report was produced following a City Quantum Summit held in London in October 2022 attended by quantum and business experts. It says that a diverse workforce, when combined with inclusive behaviours, such as allowing people from different backgrounds to have a voice in meetings, can improve innovation and financial performance.

To foster diversity and inclusion, the report recommends that organisations collect data and statistics on diversity and their hiring practices. They should also audit work processes to ensure equal opportunity, voice and visibility of everyone, while creating awareness of the need for diversity and inclusion.

Companies and organisations could also boost diversity by ensuring their recruitment process are fair and unbiased, the report says. This could involve ensuring candidates do not “self-select out of roles” because of, say, poor language in job descriptions. Task-based assessments, rather than interviews, could also help as they place less importance on an applicant’s background.

Connor Teague, chief executive and president at Quantum Futures, adds that attracting leaders from other industries to the quantum sector could help import a more diverse and inclusive culture. “When the co-founders step to the side and bring in a leader from a different industry, the business tends to stop hiring versions of themselves,” he says. “I’ve seen great success with quantum business who have done this.”

We must work harder as an industry to understand and address these issues in quantum and other technology fields

Ilana Wisby

Ilana Wisby, chief executive of Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC) says it is “disheartening” that statistics on women’s representation in quantum continue to be “disappointingly low”. Wisby also says there is a lack of data on people in the quantum sector who identify as LGBTQ+ or who come from minority-ethnic groups. She believes it is “likely that they face similar or worse under-representation and systemic barriers”.

Wisby feels it is crucial to make the quantum sector more diverse and ensure it has full equality of opportunity diversity given that quantum technology will transform society. There are signs, though, that the sector is open to change. According to Quantum Futures, more than 60% of current employees in quantum technologies want more to be done to increase diversity in the sector.

“Diverse teams consistently outperform their competitors, building better companies and achieving greater success,” says Wisby. At OQC, for example, women make up about 16% of team members in quantum-specific roles, rising to 28% when expanded to include wider technical teams. Wisby admits this is “not good enough”, but says it is better than the industry average.

Despite implementing more than 25 measures to improve diversity and inclusion, however, the firm still struggles to increase diversity among candidates for senior roles. “As an emerging industry, much of our talent pool comes from academia or reskilling from other technology sectors, which themselves face systemic barriers to diversity and inclusion,” adds Wisby. “We must work harder as an industry to understand and address these issues in quantum and other technology fields”.

Quantum plans

The LSE report came out as the UK government in March launched a new National Quantum Strategy that will run from 2024 until 2034. It believes that quantum technology could significantly benefit UK society and boost economic growth and jobs. Ministers have pledged to invest £2.5bn over the next 10 years to keep the UK competitive in this field and create a “world-leading” quantum economy.

The strategy will take over from the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme, which began in 2014. According to the new science minister, George Freeman, the new strategy is a doubling of previous commitments, equating to an additional £150m per year. The UK government also hopes to attract £1bn in private investment into the burgeoning quantum sector over the next 10 years.

The strategy will be supported by the development of research and innovation infrastructure, such as the existing National Quantum Computing Centre at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire as well as new quantum technology research hubs. It also aims to fund an additional 1000 PhD students in “quantum relevant disciplines” and open more doctoral training centres focused on quantum technologies.

In announcing the strategy, the government said it hopes the UK will become the “go-to-place” for quantum businesses, investors and global talent, by nurturing home-grown businesses, and attracting and supporting global companies to move to Britain. By 2033, it aims for the UK to have cornered a 15% share of global private-equity investment in quantum technology companies.

Other objectives include making companies in relevant sectors more aware of and prepared for the quantum technologies and developing a world leading regulator and ethical framework for the use of quantum technologies.

The strategy has been widely welcomed. “The new quantum strategy and its £2.5bn funding package is exactly the kind of backing our physics innovators need to drive even greater R&D, innovation and growth in our thriving quantum sector,” noted Louis Barson, director of science, innovation and skills at the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

Jim McDonald, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says it shows that the UK government “appreciates the competitive advantage of such long-term commitment in strategic technologies”. Daniele Faccio, a quantum physicist from the University of Glasgow, praises the “ambitious” strategy, adding that boosting skills is particularly important as “the science, the innovation and the leadership are driven by people”.

Following the launch of the strategy, the Commons Science and Technology Committee announced a new inquiry on quantum technologies. Greg Clark, chair of the House of Commons science and technology committee, said that MPs would “scrutinise the effectiveness of the government’s quantum plan to date”, including the new £2.5bn investment, and how “the UK compares globally in this strategically important area”.

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