SC16: Taking Diversity and Inclusivity Seriously

By Kim McMahon

November 8, 2016

The SC Conference continues to change and improve to provide a better experience for the conference attendees. Diversity has always been important to the conference and this year they have taken their actions further with the creation of the Diverse HPC Workforce committee.

I had the opportunity to interview John West, SC16 chair, and Trish Damkroger, chair of the Diverse HPC Workforce committee, to ask them about their respective roles and what motivates them to volunteer for this effort.

Why do you see diversity an important initiative for SC16?

John West: I am an engineer. I put on my math and engineering hat to analyze the future workforce needed for HPC positions.

John West
John West

HPC is a critical tool for engineering and science accomplishment. It’s difficult to find a discipline that is not touched by HPC. As we get more sophisticated with big data sets, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the role of computing is going to become more important.

We have to provide enough people to do the work in HPC. Currently, the workforce is short by 200,000 skilled employees. It is estimated that the HPC workforce will need a million skilled workers by 2022. An estimated two thirds of the people in the workforce are from underrepresented groups. We have to look at the two thirds who are “untapped talents” to ensure we have the best and smartest minds working on the problems we are trying to solve with HPC.

What other areas of HPC do see possibly affected?

West: I build and work with tools. These tools need to be used by all types of people with diverse backgrounds. A group of engineers would use their native language and terminology in the tools they build, which may not translate clearly to everyone. When you have larger teams and collaboration, you get tools that are built from a broad spectrum of life experiences and work experiences that fit a wider audience.

What led you to get started with the Diversity Workforce effort?

Trish Damkroger: My wakeup call was as I was sending my daughter off to college to study computer engineering. I didn’t want her to be the only girl in the class or to have to deal with professors that might be discriminatory. We need to make a change in the culture where women and minorities are comfortable and are treated fairly and with respect.

Do you see bias in the SC community?

Damkroger: Yes, and I don’t think people realize the damage they are doing. I believe most of what I have seen is unconscious bias versus intentional.

West: The SC Diversity effort really opened my eyes. I believe there is an unconscious inequality in the way people are treated. As I’ve learned more, my eyes opened to the bias and it’s something I want to change.

Trish, what has your role been like as chair of the Diversity Workforce committee at SC16?

Trish Damkroger
Trish Damkroger

Damkroger: As with any new initiative in SC, forming the right team and developing the goals were the focus for the first year. We decided on 20 percent conference participation and 20 percent technical program participation by women by 2020. Since the committee is made up mostly from volunteers, this role involved educating the committee and helping the committee understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity.

What is your vision for the Diversity Workforce? What were your goals and what did you accomplish?

Damkroger: John West decided to focus on diversity as a priority for SC16. I was honored that he asked me to chair the committee. The overall vision for the diverse workforce is that it is diverse and we do not have to focus energy on the subject. For a while, the number of women in computer science increased, and I thought we were moving on the right track. Unfortunately, those numbers along with female electrical engineers have been declining. I want all children to be able to become whatever they want to be. I want teachers, parents, and advisors to encourage all students to pursue STEM degrees. I want women and under-represented groups to feel welcome in HPC. We need more computer scientists to fill the jobs we currently have. We need more people to pursue CS education. I think John has done a great job of looking at the numbers and identifying what is needed for our community.

As for accomplishing my goals for the committee…I’d say this is a multi-year commitment with multi-year goals. I am proud of the work the committee has done so far and we still have a lot of work to do.

What do you think is the most urgent issue that needs our action – “our” meaning the HPC community?

Damkroger: I think the biggest issue is the pipeline. I believe that the more diverse our workforce becomes, the easier it is to bring more diversity into the pipeline. The overall goal is to increase the number of students getting CS degrees. I have sponsored the Girls Who Code Program in the local schools around Livermore so we can reach middle and high school students. There are wonderful programs already developed to tap into which could help the pipeline issue of the future.

How can we all contribute to the diversity and inclusivity effort?

Damkroger: Get involved! For many years, I assumed the environment had improved in colleges for Computer Science and Engineering students. It was heartbreaking when I spoke to students and heard about some of the situations they are currently encountering. No one wants our daughters, granddaughters or future daughters to have to go through what I am still hearing about. The day that the world is gender and race neutral will be a great day.


The SC16 Diversity efforts are very comprehensive. Below is a summary. Explore the SC16 website for full details.


The SC Conference Diversity effort has been gathering conference stats and industry data for years. This is an ongoing effort where the committee will continue to gather data and share it with the community. In the year’s prior, it was optional 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.

SC16 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. 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, the committee is turning their 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

SC16 is 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.

Many of us have been coming to the SC conference for years. We know a lot of people, tend to interact with our ‘group,’ 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. To continue to grow the available HPC workforce, we need to keep growing the people that come to the conference. We can do that by helping attendees feel more comfortable at the conference, giving them advice on how to make the most of the conference activities, and highlighting the science and math because that is where #HPCmatters!

Do you have feedback to my blog or the SC16 Diversity program? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at

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