Women in HPC (WHPC) returned to international in-person events at ISC22

Posted by j.laird on 14 July 2022 - 10:00am
workshop group participants
Workshop group participants

By Mozhgan Kabiri Chimeh (NVIDIA) Cristin Merritt (Alces Flight) Weronika Filinger (EPCC and the University of Edinburgh) Martina Prugger (University of Innsbruck) Elisabetta Boella (Lancaster University and the Cockcroft Institute) Marion Weinzierl (Durham University and the N8 CIR).

Members, allies and friends gathered together for the 13th Annual WHPC Workshop at ISC22 (29 May - 2 June 2022), as well as celebrated Early Career Research in HPC and the return of Diversity Day.

After two years online, the volunteers for Women in High Performance Computing (WHPC) were pleased to return in-person to ISC22 in Hamburg, Germany to present their thirteenth annual international workshop. Focused on providing a platform for the HPC community to discuss diversity and inclusivity issues, this year’s half day event was able to explore professional skills development, highlight women who are early in their careers of research, and engage with leaders and managers in HPC to improve the inclusion and retention of diverse teams.

Keynote and talks

Split into two themes, the event kicked off with a wonderfully interactive keynote by Dr. Helena Liebelt, Professor of Computer Science at Deggendorf Institute of Technology, on creating a diverse academic environment. Rather than give a standard presentation, Dr. Liebelt split workshop attendees into five teams with the task of thinking up actions on how to foster inclusivity.  Each of the five groups came back with a host of ideas including:

  • Exploring the many options of mentoring - formal, informal, and even reverse mentoring were all discussed.
  • That just showing up to support those who are underrepresented in the field can bring a lot to fostering diverse teams and growing new ideas.
  • That setting a standard of open expression and respect in meetings can shift the mindset of those attending to be more inclusive.
  • That utilising meetings to validate and show support for underrepresented team members and their ideas is a great way to include everyone in the room.
  • That anyone can be a role model for inclusion - it just takes the intention and drive to confront the tough questions we face with compassion and a willingness to learn.

Dr. Liebelt’s keynote was followed by talks exploring our first theme: Creating a supportive workplace and promoting the visibility of women in the HPC communities. Our two speakers, Cristin Merritt of Alces Flight and Werner Janse Van Rensburg of CHPC (South Africa) were able to explore the notion of ‘Diversity Tax’ and what it means to be a male ally for the WHPC community. Cristin’s talk utilised informal polling from portions of the HPC community to see how individuals view unpaid diversity roles often assigned to women alongside their own paid work in HPC. The results were insightful, primarily in that many men do not realise the pressures women face in both having to be excellent researchers and visible and equally excellent representatives to other women hoping to enter the field. Werner’s talk followed with a deep exploration of allyship for women and underrepresented groups, highlighting his African perspective. He spoke at length about having to continuously foster inclusion, something which has happily resulted in CHPC having some of the most diverse and successful student cluster competition teams at the ISC conferences.

Interactive sessions

Our first session concluded with one of our workshop’s biggest highlights: Early Career Poster and Lightning Talks. Six women were able to present on a host of technical and non-technical topics exploring everything from AI/ML, Exascale, scalable software packages, optics and a complete exploration of entering into the field of HPC. We are particularly grateful to ISC for featuring these posters in the main conference program, and the lightning talks served as a finale to two days of open engagement with the ISC community. This session is also made possible through the WHPC mentorship program, which strives to engage women in the field on both technical and professional development.

After a short break, our second session centred around three short talks on Early Career Development. Kicking off this session was Jack Wells of NVIDIA, who spoke about developing a work culture that works for all. His statement on building expertise, from which he drew inspiration from the quote that an expert is one who has made all the mistakes that can be made in the field, resonated most with the workshop audience. Laura Schulz of LRZ followed, giving a wonderful presentation around steering your career path towards leadership. Her insight into the realities of leadership, including how when taking a position at that level means letting go of your ego and finding joy in the successes of the team, was truly inspiring. Rounding out the session was CJ Newburn, also of NVIDIA, who spoke about building character and community. His points on reframing a situation in order to find solutions, and owning your ability to make positive choices regardless of circumstances, was widely discussed in the closing session.

As our workshop came to an end participants were able to ask questions of the speakers or general audience and compile actions to take away to use in their careers and daily lives.  Thanks to the interactive keynote, the theme of doing something - even something small - to promote positive change in the HPC community was felt throughout this event. We were pleased to see open discussion around how men can do more to help women and underrepresented groups, on how HPC careers never follow a linear path, and that even the smallest change in behaviour can open up new opportunities and interactions.

Equitable achievements

In addition to this year’s workshop, Women in HPC were able to host two additional events - Diversity Day and the WHPC Poster Reception - both held on May 31st. Diversity Day celebrates the continued movements being made towards equity and inclusion in HPC - taking place conference-wide through visible personal expression and institutional celebration. WHPC provided free shirts to ISC attendees, as well as other small items to showcase support.

Collage of Diversity Day participants with WHPC t-shirts
Diversity Day participants with WHPC t-shirts

We were pleased to see many of the attendees and vendors demonstrating their pride in the equitable achievements being made in our community - as well as engaging attendees on the need to continue to foster a culture which is welcoming for all. Thanks to ISC, we were also able to highlight our early career researchers in a poster reception, which was open to all conference attendees. This was a great opportunity for our presenters to show off their work and for members and allies to network in an open and friendly atmosphere. We are grateful for the thoughtful attention ISC gave to our early career researchers, and look forward to hosting a similar set of additional events next year.

None of the events at ISC would have been possible without our volunteers. We’d like to extend a big thanks to our committee members for ISC - Mozhgan Kabiri Chimeh, Weronika Filinger, Martina Prugger, Elisabetta Boella, Marion Weinzierl, and Cristin Merritt, for all their hard work in bringing this workshop to life.

Our next international workshop will be held in Dallas, Texas at the Supercomputing Conference (SC22) on November 13, 2022.  This event is guaranteed to be much bigger, and will encompass a whole day - giving more attendees the opportunity to drop in, listen, and engage with our community.  We look forward to seeing you there!


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