Changing the world: Women In HPC at ISC 2017

Author: Toni Collis
Posted: 7 Jul 2017 | 10:36

This year's ISC conference in Frankfurt was the best week for Women in HPC (WHPC) since our launch in 2014.

I spent a lot of my week personally talking about how I want to ‘make the world a better place’. It sounds very cliché but I believe it is a message that we in HPC need to embrace more if we are to encourage more women to move into HPC and something we all need to talk about more. As such as I was thrilled that during ISC, WHPC participated in activities across the full extent of the conference and spoke to a record number of attendees about the importance and benefits of creating an inclusive and diverse workforce. This was WHPC’s own little contribution to changing the world!

We started the week with WHPC hosted at the EPCC booth for the duration of the ISC Exhibition. I am still humbled by the amazing volunteers who stepped up to help out at the booth, chatting to those passing about why WHPC as a movement and initiative is so important to the HPC community.

On the Tuesday WHPC hosted the second Celebration and Networking lunch for women in the HPC community. We brought together over 70 people from across the international HPC community. Angelo Apa, Technical Sales and Business Development Director for our Keynote Supporter, Lenovo, hosted a lively and useful discussion on how companies (such as Lenovo) can increase the number of women applying for jobs in HPC.

Throughout ISC week we were delighted to speak to Angelo Apa again, and also Jessica Popp of DDN, about what their respective companies were doing to improve diversity. We will be sharing their thoughts and insights over the coming weeks, and hope to encourage more to join in this important conversation.

Gender and research

WHPC was also involved in three panel discussions on the Exhibit show floor. The first panel, which I was privileged to chair and organise, was hosted by PRACE, and discussed the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding framework ‘Gender Dimension’. This is a topic that is of particular interest to me personally: how does gender impact our research? During the session, Serge Bogaerts (PRACE Managing Director), Veronika Teodor (FZ Jülich) and Nick Brown (EPCC) discussed what steps they have already taken in training and beyond to improve the awareness of this issue in their projects.

The gender dimension goes beyond how many women and men are in the research team, but how gender impacts research. This is an area that HPC struggles with: after all how is the development of new hardware impacted by gender? But as HPC is used in a broader range of application areas than ever before, from machine learning and AI to new models for traditional areas such as climate science, we need to be considering how gender is impacted by HPC research outputs. Crucially as we learn that AI is not only learning but amplifying human gender bias our community needs to consider gender as we move forwards, so it was a honour for me to raise this question to the audience at the PRACE booth.

Improving diversity 

The second panel, hosted and organised by Intel, and chaired by Alexis Bjorlin (VP Data Center Group & GM Connectivity Group Intel Corporation) discussed the importance of diversity more generally, going beyond just gender. The panellists included Kim McMahon (CEO of McMahon Consulting, Head of Strategy and Communications for WHPC, and ISC18 Diversity Chair), Marie-Christine Sawley (Paris Exascale Lab Director, Intel) and myself. Topics discussed the importance and benefits of diversity as well as role models, advocates and supporters in the workplace and how these go beyond mentorship to make sure the contribution that women make is acknowledged.

The third panel ‘meet the leaders of WHPC’, hosted and chaired by Xand McMahon co-founder Lara Kisielewska, provided some insight into why WHPC exists, our mission and values.

Two final activities rounded our WHPC’s ISC week: our BoF on improving diversity and our 6th international workshop. The BoF provided an introduction on unconscious bias, stereotype threat and impostor syndrome, prompting lively discussions and requests for more detailed sessions in the future. Our workshop finished the week with half a day of skills building for women such as how to communicate effectively in the workplace and how to take your next career step, and then we finished the day with a discussion on how to improve diversity in the workplace, taking a more in-depth look at what does and doesn’t work in HPC, and whether looking at gender is sufficient or excludes other groups unnecessarily.

Next steps

After months of planning ISC seems to have been over in one short whirlwind week! But with contributions from over 40 different people at our events, and reaching audiences of hundreds more, every minute of work was worth it. After just a few short days downtime, the WHPC team is now planning in earnest for our activities at November’s SC conference in Denver. But we already have our eye on ISC in 2018 and how we can encourage more women to attend the conference from across Europe and beyond, encouraging those who sit at the edge of HPC to participate and realise that they have a significant contribution to make to the community.

Get involved!

If you have ideas for events or activities, or have attended one of our events and have suggestions we want to hear from you. Our activities are for you – our members and the international audience – so please get in touch by emailing WHPC to let us know what you think!


Toni Collis, EPCC. Toni is a co-founder of WHPC and she will be the Inclusivity Chair for SC'17.

Photo: Cristin Merritt, Alces Flight, with her poster at the WHPC workshop at ISC. See:
This post first appeared on the WHPC blog.

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