A New Focus on Diversity and Inclusivity at SC16

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In this special guest feature, Kim McMahon writes that SC16 will reflect a concerted effort to improve diversity and inclusivity at the conference.

Kim McMahon, Xand McMahon

Kim McMahon, Xand McMahon

SC16 has embraced diversity with this year’s conference by stepping up and stating: “Diversity and inclusivity is important to SC16.” I joined the Diverse HPC Workforce committee (Diversity Committee) earlier this year as the communications lead to help shape the message and get this message out to the SC audience. I have really enjoyed this effort, and I want to share what the committee is doing.

The key components of the SC16 effort to diversify the HPC community are providing opportunities to underrepresented groups as well as educating the community on the benefits of improving diversity. I had a conversation with John West, SC16 Chair, and Trish Damkroger, Chair for the SC16 Diversity Committee, to understand what motivated SC16 to start the diversity effort and why they have taken time out of their busy day to work on this activity.

John is an engineer. He knows HPC is the critical tool used for engineering and science accomplishments – all of those #HPCmatters real-world stories that we will see at SC16 such as precision medicine or making cities work better for you. It takes people to work with the sophisticated big data sets and high-end compute, and the role of computing is going to become more important.

John put his engineer hat on and did a quick analysis of available workforce. We have to provide enough people to do the work in HPC. We are currently short in the workforce about 200,000 skilled employees. The demand will grow to 1 million by 2022. Two-thirds of the people in the workforce are minorities and women. If you look at this as just an engineering problem and know you need to add to the workforce, you have to look at the two thirds who are “untapped talents”.

If you want to get the best ideas, you need to ask all of the smart people what they think. HPC is really hard and have big problems to solve that solutions will impact humanity. If we are only talking to one-third of the workforce, are we finding the best ideas and solutions? By tapping into the other two thirds, we get more people and ideas to solve the big HPC problems.

Trish Damkroger,

Trish Damkroger, LLNL

Trish’s wake-up point was as she was sending her daughter off to college to study computer engineering. She didn’t want her to be the only girl in the class or deal with professors that are demeaning. She has seen the unconscious bias and feels we have to make a change in the culture where women and minorities are comfortable and are treated fairly and with respect.

John agreed: There is unconscious inequality in the way people are treated. As I learned and paid attention, I noticed the bias and wanted to change it.

I do want to note that the SC16 diversity and inclusivity effort is not about giving anyone ‘special treatment’. It’s about recognizing that people are different, and if they are part of an ‘underrepresented’ group, they may not be as comfortable at the SC conference or working in HPC. It’s about identifying the little things we all can do to help them feel more comfortable, make their SC experience positive and memorable, and continue to grow the available talent to work in the HPC field.

The SC16 Diversity efforts are very comprehensive. Below is a summary. Click here for full details.

The SC Conference Diversity effort has been gathering conference stats and industry data for years. This is an ongoing effort where we, the committee, will continue to gather data and share it with the community. In the year’s prior, this was an optional opportunity for participants to ‘self-identify’; however, this year, it has been made a requirement as this will go a long way in identifying the makeup of the conference participants and the changes we see year over year. The Diversity Committee will be conducting surveys at SC to continue to gather data so expect better and more data. See the graphs.

SC16SC16 Code of Conduct
SC16 took a big step in defining a conference Code of Conduct designed to provide a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. There is the Code of Conduct and a process for confidentially reporting breaches of the code of conduct.

Child Care
This is the first year the SC conference has offered child care services for parents to bring their little HPC-ers to the program. In addition to child care, there is also a parents’ room to accommodate the needs of parents. The deadline to sign up for child care has already passed. Now, we are turning our focus to the results to see if these services are beneficial to those parents who want to attend the conference and that they have helped make their SC conference experience better.

First-Time Attendees
Remember when you first attended an SC conference? Well, we are bringing back the First Time Attendee welcome presentation to give advice on navigating the SC conference, highlighting what SC has to offer, and giving new attendees an opportunity to meet the SC team. Anyone is welcome for the presentation (you don’t have to be a first time attendee). Monday, November 14, 4:30-5:15 pm, room 260 in the Convention Center. Click here for more first-time attendee information.

Many of us, myself included, have been coming to the SC conference for years. We know a lot of people and are very comfortable at the conference. We all need to be aware that not everyone has the experience with the conference that we’ve had; we need to try and help make them feel more comfortable. This is important not just for the SC conference but also for HPC.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the community responds to our efforts. Do you have feedback to my blog post or the SC16 Diversity program? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at: kmcmahon@mcmahonconsulting.com.

See our complete coverage of SC16, which takes place Nov. 13-18 in Salt Lake City.