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Celebrating International Women’s Day: An Exclusive Interview with Anastasia Marchenkova

In an exclusive Q&A interview, leadership coach and physicist Anastasia Marchenkova discusses the need for gender equality in the quantum industry.
By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry posted 08 Mar 2024

In celebration of International Women’s Day, a time dedicated to honoring the achievements of women around the globe and advocating for their rights, we at Inside Quantum Technology are thrilled to present an exclusive Q&A article featuring Anastasia Marchenkova. 

As a trailblazer in quantum computing, Anastasia embodies the spirit of innovation and resilience that the day seeks to highlight. Anastasia is a quantum physicist and founder of One Quark Media, a deep tech marketing firm. As such, she often works with individuals looking to further their careers in the quantum industry. 

Through this engaging conversation, Anastasia highlights some of the basic structures needed to make the quantum industry more diverse and how women can take charge and find successful careers. 

 

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in the quantum tech industry today? 

A.M.: The underrepresentation of women, particularly in leadership and high-profile roles, can create a self-perpetuating cycle. A lack of visible female role models can make it harder for young women to envision themselves in those roles.

Increasing the visibility of successful women in quantum tech through conference keynotes, media features, and leadership appointments can help shift perceptions and inspire the next generation. 

I was lucky in my life as a kid to be surrounded by men and women who were scientists and engineers. Until age 10, I thought everyone was required to get a Ph.D. because that’s who I was surrounded with! 

[Another example is] Kelli Gerardi a space scientist and Instagrammer – her daughter asked if only mommies can be astronauts! She’s so used to seeing her mom in the role of an astronaut!!  different! 

Q: How can more women enter into this space?  

A.M.: Study STEM! 

We need to spark [women’s] curiosity, show the exciting real-world applications of fields like math, physics, and computer science, and help build confidence in their technical abilities. This means investing in quality STEM education and providing hands-on learning opportunities. The more we can get young girls engaged in STEM, the stronger the pipeline of female talent will be.

For women already in the workforce but maybe didn’t study a STEM field, it’s never too late to start learning about quantum technologies. There are so many great online resources, courses, workshops, and boot camps popping up to help people gain quantum skills. There are also opportunities to pivot into quantum-related roles within their companies or explore internships and apprenticeships to get their foot in the door. 

Building a supportive network is also hugely important. I can’t stress enough how valuable it is for women in quantum to connect with each other. Joining professional associations, attending industry events, and participating in women’s networking groups can be game-changing. And don’t underestimate the power of social media for expanding your network!

Also, be kind to each other. We need to get rid of the outdated idea that there’s only room for a few token women at the top. When women genuinely champion each other’s success, amazing things happen. I’ve been lucky to have incredible mentors – both female and male – who have opened doors for me and been my cheerleaders. I try to pay that forward now by mentoring new students in the field. If you’re established in your quantum career, consider how you can be a mentor and create opportunities for others. 

Q: Do you think more women are actually being included in the quantum industry, or does it seem to be more of a PR story?  

A.M.: It’s not just a PR story – I’m seeing more and more brilliant women making important contributions and taking on leadership roles in the field. In physics, there’s this certain purity of the field. In my life, physics has always been pretty good about rewarding merit and skill, regardless of gender, even if there are bad experiences in specific groups. You’ll earn respect if you come from a top research group and do high-quality work. 

Obviously, this is highly variable, depending on your advisor and the company itself. But I see the light that shines up in people’s eyes when you can speak their language. Nerds appreciate nerds, and that makes me excited for the future. 

Q: How could companies work to add more women to their teams?  

A.M.: This might be controversial – but I don’t think companies focus enough on retention when it comes to women in quantum. They’ll make a big fuss about hiring more female candidates and hitting diversity quotas, but then they drop the ball once they’re in the door.

Honestly, I’d rather see a quantum company with 20% women who are absolutely crushing it, loving their work, and thriving in their careers than a company with 50% women who are miserable, feel like imposters, and are constantly on the verge of burning out.

And let me tell you, the most important factor in whether a woman (or anyone, really) will stick around in a quantum job is the direct manager. That person has such a huge impact on your day-to-day experience, your growth opportunities, your work-life balance – everything. If you have a manager who gets it, who advocates for you, who gives you stretch assignments and constructive feedback, it can make all the difference. But if you have a manager who’s dismissive, who takes credit for your work, who makes you feel small – it doesn’t matter how great the rest of the company is. 

And of course, having women in top leadership roles is super important too. But – and this is key – those women need to have real clout and credibility with both the technical and business sides of the house. They can’t just be figureheads or tokens. If a female executive isn’t respected by the quantum engineers and coders in the trenches, if she’s seen as just checking a box, that’s worse for the industry. 

So yes, bringing more women into the quantum workforce is a great start. But it can’t just be a numbers game or a PR play. 

Q: What is one thing women should know before looking at quantum tech jobs?

A.M.: I always want to hammer this home: Apply for jobs if you fit 60% of the qualifications! 

I encourage everyone to think: What do you want to do with your life, and what impact do you want to have? 

But here’s what I want you to remember: your career, your life, your impact – it’s about SO much more than being the perfect Woman in STEM™. It’s about going on your own trail and staying true to what you want to do.

If idea of being trapped in meetings all day makes you want to tear your hair out, don’t force yourself into a management role just because you think you “should.” Lean into your technical genius instead and let your communication skills shine in other ways. On the flip side, if you’re all about the big picture and could take or leave the whiteboard theory, don’t be afraid to pivot into something like product management or business development.

Categories: quantum computing, women in quantum

Tags: Anastasia Marchenkova, International Women's Day, One Quark Media

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