So, how did it go? What did we discuss? Did we gain any new perspectives?

As we wrote in an earlier post, at JuWinHPC we firmly believe in inclusion. Therefore, we had organised a members meeting in September 2023, specifically inviting our male colleagues (who are also welcome to join any other meeting!) to offer space for their thoughts and opinions.

We opened our meeting with Ruth presenting our network and its goals, vision and how we are organised. Her telling that we as women/minority in the HPC community are “fighting for our rights” immediately led to the first interesting discussion. Can a relatively flexible employer (offering flexi-time and the option to work from home etc.) also expect a certain level of flexibility from their employees? Or should family-friendliness be one of the higher priorities? Should, e.g., a half-day all-hands-event of the institute always take place in the mornings (to make it better accessible for part-time staff, typically working in the mornings during child care and school hours) or can the employer expect from everyone to reorganise their private life and duties to – once in a while – work in the afternoons to attend such events? Is this fair, thinking of single parents or employees whose partner cannot easily change working hours? This lively discussion showed that we, human beings, all tend to focus on how our own life is organised, which easily leads to unconsciously neglecting that others might have other constraints. Although we did not get to a common agreement in the discussion, it demonstrated how important diversity (in all possible aspects) is to make sure that everyone’s boundary conditions and opinions are well reflected in discussions and decision-making. We did agree, though, that sometimes there are good and unavoidable reasons for having to work outside of the personal regular working hours, be it to solve urgent issues, finalise something urgent, or to collaborate with partners in different time zones. 

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Another discussion topic that spontaneously arose was how to make job postings more inclusive. Several of the participants have already been involved in hiring processes and gained different experiences. Some interesting strategies were shared how to make postings more attractive to women, respectively to make it more likely that they will apply, from clearly differentiating between “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” (women tend to be more self-critical with regards to their abilities and skills), using explicitly female forms (yep, that’s a German thing), and talking more about the application area than about technology when describing the open position.

Related is the question how to “have women stay” once we have managed to attract and hire them. We have discussed a number of measures, some relatively easy to implement (make them feel welcome, get them into networks like JuWinHPC so that they can find role models), others are more challenging or simply outside of our hands (fixing the “leaky pipeline”, getting female teenagers interested in STEM, and ultimately solving the – again German – issue of the WissZeitVG).

One of the attending male colleagues made everyone aware of an Helmholtz Juniors report, which shows a difference in pay between male and female PhD students in computer science and related fields, which led to everyone speculating how this is even possible, given that – in principle – publicly funded jobs (including research) should have salaries based on objective criteria and be exactly the same at the PhD student level. We speculated that male PhD students might negotiate better (higher entrance level in the salary tables), apply for positions with a higher FTE percentage (PhD students are often employed in part-time), or that female students might on average drop out earlier leaving research for job security or realising that other positions might be better compatible with having a family.

We concluded this very interesting, eye-opening meeting with a brief exchange of arguments if we should have sometimes women-only meetings, or if always everyone should be welcome to attend.

Overall, we are glad that we have organised a meeting in this form, focusing on the perspective of male colleagues, and we are likely going to do so again in the future.

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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