WHPC-SA BoF Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) National Meeting 2018

A guest post by: Khomotso Maenetja

First Published on Feb 1st, 2019.

This was my second time hosting BoF session for Women in HPC South Africa at Centre for High-Performance Computing; it has run for 3 years. It was a more relaxed kind of setup, whereby everyone who attended the session could participate. Surprisingly, 40 % of our total attendees were men who actively participants involved in the session. The programme was designed in a way that we had a panel which comprised: Trish Damkroger, a Vice President and General Manager of the Extreme Computing Organization in Intel’s Data Center Group); Weronika Filinger, the HPC Applications Developer of EPCC, the University of Edinburgh and Kirti Devi a Technical Marketing Manager in Intel’s Communication Infrastructure Group.

The panelists introduced themselves, by giving a brief background of what they do, where they come from, career-wise and the challenges they are facing as women in High-Performance Computing especially in management. These introductions were followed by an interesting presentation by Weronika, which triggered a lot of interest and questions from the floor. She spoke about networking, work-life balance, psychological resilience and some of the available resources. Following that, we had an open discussion, whereby most of the questions were mainly driven by the preceding presentations and by the introductory speeches given by the panelists. Some of the open forum discussions are highlighted in the following bullet points:

  • Networking: Comments from the panelists and attendees were:
    • Women find it difficult to network, especially if they have to do it with men without having to worry about sending ‘the wrong signals’) which of course is influenced by cultural background.
    • A woman thinks twice before approaching a potential collaborator (male/female), – what goes through her minds is: Is she going to be relevant? How would she make her interest more appealing without boring others? Approaching potential funders is even worse, since asking their money to fund someone else’s ideas without a properly written proposal is often uncomfortable.

Networking is a serious challenge, but after the discussions we had, I’d say, networking is not so bad and it just has to be done more often.

  • Gender Equality: Here are some of the comments from the panelists and attendees:
    • “Some men think women are given a priority even if they are not as qualified as required just to have a balance between men and female.”
    • “Women think for the mere fact that they’re women, they are pushed aside.”
    • “Women feel they have to work twice as hard to prove their capabilities.”
    • “Where I work, there is a lot of men about 95%, it is very hard to convey a message that requires an effort from them. This leads to my job description and my authority being questioned (such as who are you to give me orders?), so it is not easy at all. Fortunately, my line manager, my mentor and my former supervisor from MSc to Ph.D. is very supportive and encourages leadership in women.”
  • Work-life balance: On this topic some of the comments are:
    • “Women tend to find it difficult to say ‘No’.”
    • Women should say “No” to work beyond the expected time and do not compromise your resting time (leave days) to impress your boss.
    • Do not let anyone force you to work even when you are sick (your health is a priority).

The discussion was broad and very interesting. We wanted to address the following topics which we could not cover due to time constraint is how to get women interested and then retain them in the field of HPC. Increasing participation and retention is very important because as beginners, we still trying to get on our feet. Looking at student cluster competition which is the focus of this conference has very few girls which suggest that we need to go back to outreach and community engagement and spread the word that women in HPC are the future.

Workshop Organizers: Khomotso Maenetja & Sylvia Ledwaba

About the author: Khomotso Maenetja

  • Khomotso Maenetja is a senior researcher at Univ of Limpopo, Polokwane Area, South Africa. She received her Ph.D. in computational modeling of battery materials, (Physics) and she was also the chairperson of WHPC-SA BOF. Khomotso Portia Maenetja works on the reduction of oxygen reaction and oxygen evolution reaction in Li-air batteries and currently working surface studies in cathode materials in Li-ion batteries aiming to improve cycling performance of secondary Li-ion batteries and preventing Manganese dissolution. Her passion is outreach. Seeing girls and women in South Africa and across the world furthering their studies and participating in the advancement of technology/High-Performance Computing fulfills her.

Blog Editor: Jesmin Jahan Tithi, Research Scientist, Intel.