End of May an email from the WHPC team reached our chapter, asking if any of us would be interested to give a talk about “Women in HPC: Breaking Barriers and Shaping the Future” at the Supercomputing Day 2024, which is a side event of the large “Nexus2050” tech event in Luxembourg. How could we say no to such an opportunity?

The invitation originally came from LuxProvide (shoutout to Guillaume Tanferri!), one of the organizing institutions of the event and a brand-new member of the WHPC Alliance Group. Not only did this title sound like the organisers had a genuine interest in the topic, but Luxembourg is also (more or less) around the corner from Jülich. We quickly checked internally, who of us in the JuWinHPC core team will be available that day – there was less than a month left until the event would talk place – and I was the lucky one who could go.

Banner of the event website

In two brief planning meetings with the organisers, we came to the conclusion that it would be even better to not only have me giving a keynote talk, but to also invite more women on stage for a short panel. The team in Luxembourg managed to invite and convince Diem Bui, senior solution engineer at LuxProvide, and Silvana Belegu, student in the EUMaster4HPC at the University of Luxembourg, to join for that purpose.

That was the point where I started to get a bit nervous. It felt so important to me to properly represent our chapter’s goals and activities in a way that actually catches the attention of the audience and convinces them that it is worthwhile to join us in our efforts to diversify the HPC community. I started to prepare my presentation, aiming for a brief but complete summary of WHPC, JuWinHPC, what we do and why. (Many thanks to our awesome colleagues at the JSC, especially to our JuWinHPC crew for honest feedback and fighting the my imposter syndrome, and to Michael for his professional, graphics-expert view!) I must admit that I truly love to make “pretty slides”, which don’t only convey the right message but also in a visually appealing and recognisable way.

Then it was already time to drive the 2.5 hours by car with some scenic views in the eifel area to Luxembourg. (Being able to listen to podcasts on the way instead of my child’s entertainment was admittedly also a nice change.)

(c) Sophie Margue

My talk started with an introduction of WHPC (with the question why there are so few women in the HPC community), why we have founded our chapter and how we try to achieve our goals. My strategy was to be very objective, mixed with some more personal anecdotes (like the immediate loss of my joy for winning an award when realising that I was the only female competitor in years – I will never know if that was the reason I got it or if I was simply the best). I pointed out that sometimes already “the small things” can mid- to long-term have a large impact: Make sure to have women around when student groups are visiting. Clearly point out in job ads which criteria are only nice-to-have, as women are less likely to apply if they think they don’t fulfil all criteria. A summary of our activities, pointing out that we actually do most of the work for JuWinHPC outside of our working hours as a “hobby”, concluded the talk. During my presentation I highlighted multiple times that our network is open to anyone, and that everyone can benefit from reaching our goals like a better work-life balance.

Afterwards Lynn Rosa Andre, European Digital Project Coordinator at Luxinnovation, brilliantly moderated our panel. We had collectively worked on a set of questions and potential answers before, so that she could balance well whom to ask what. (I think this kind of preparation does not only make this panel very interesting to follow, but it also helps in particular less experienced panelists to be less nervous, as they already have a good idea what they will be asked.)

(c) Sophie Margue

I might be a bit biased, but I think our session went very well. Some female members of the audience told me afterwards that they could really find themselves in the “stories” I told and that it feels affirming to hear that others have experienced similar situations. Some men approached me to thank me for this very objective (goal achieved!) presentation, as it provided them with views and thoughts that they never had before. To be honest, these brief conversations made me happy. In the evening, when I was back home sitting on the couch, I also saw some very positive posts about our session on social media. After having talked about increasing female visibility, it made me smile to see that HPCwire decided to use a photo of the only all-female panel of the event (with the clearly visible title “Women in HPC“) to illustrate their article about the entire event.

About Anna Lührs

Anna Lührs started to work at the JSC in 2008 as apprentice (Mathematisch-Technische Softwareentwicklerin MaTSE), and stayed part-time during her master programme. For her master thesis she developed an image segmentation algorithm for Polarized Light Imaging brain data in collaboration with the INM-1. Afterwards she joined the division HPC in Neuroscience, for which she meanwhile acted as deputy lead, first as research associate. In 2014 she shifted her focus towards project management, research coordination and science communication for the Human Brain Project, an EU-funded project with more than 100 project partners and a total duration of 10 years. She has recently joined the Office for (Inter-)national Coordination and Networking at the JSC.

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