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Three Questions with SC20 Inclusivity Chair Kelly Gaither


kelly gaither

Kelly Gaither
SC20 Inclusivity Chair


What does SC do to address inclusivity and diversity at the conference?

When the Inclusivity Committee became an official component of the SC Planning Committee for SC17, there was significant footwork to do. Toni Collis was the first Inclusivity Chair. She brought structure, awareness, and information to the committee and the SC community at large. We started with a call-to-action brought by John West when he was SC16 General Chair – to simply do the math to know our diversity numbers in all aspects of the conference. That initial call-to-action was followed by recognition that diversity and inclusion have many dimensions.

To be successful we had to understand, appreciate, and welcome all of the differences that make each and every one of us unique. Under Toni’s leadership, we worked on issues related to diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and providing a welcoming conference for all current and future members of our community. It was her leadership that brought inclusivity to the forefront and made it a part of the SC fabric. Because of that leadership, today, we have the opportunity to purposefully move the needle, ensuring that all members of the SC community embrace the notion that we truly are stronger together. Today, we not only continue the efforts started by Toni, we also look at innovative ways to make a difference, and provide a more inclusive conference experience.

Has SC moved the needle on participation from underrepresented groups?

You have to be willing to ‘play the long game’ to move the needle in a manner that sticks over time. In 2016, SC embraced the first instantiation of Computing4Change–then called Advanced Computing for Social Change. That program, and other versions of it, have introduced hundreds of undergraduates to SC and to supercomputing more broadly. It happened one cohort at a time, with purpose and dedication from a team of people intent on moving the needle. Roughly half of those undergraduates were women, and some of the most diverse group of students I have seen come through programs like these.

The Students@SC program has done a tremendous job bringing in diverse students from all walks of life, ensuring that their experience with SC is transformative. Women in HPC holds a workshop every year dedicated to inclusivity and fostering diversity in attendees, many of them young and just beginning their careers. The technical program chairs choose their committees intentionally, balancing diversity across a number of dimensions. The committee chairs also look at how to bring new people in to the committee to build an inclusive and diverse conference organization.

Have we moved the needle? It’s too early to pat ourselves on the back and call it a day. We still have so much yet to accomplish to ensure that it will last beyond any one of us. And, with everything that is happening in our world today, it is painfully clear that we have a mountain of work ahead of us if we are going to make a difference. We have to be willing to have tough and potentially uncomfortable conversations, listen to, and engage our entire community if we are to truly be inclusive.

What is the most important new Inclusivity initiative for this year?

One new initiative this year is HPC in the City. SC has always left a large footprint in each and every city we visit. SCinet ensures that we often leave the local fiber networking in a far superior condition than we find it. But our footprint isn’t limited to just technology. Expanding the concept of Computing4Change, not only can we engage the citizens of our host cities to participate in a series of events that expose them to supercomputing and how prevalent these technologies are in their everyday lives, but we can also work side-by-side with them to tackle problems relevant to their communities for which supercomputing technologies are beneficial.

Prior to the conference, we will be hosting hackathons with attendees from the Atlanta area to work on problems relevant to the city and the surrounding communities. It is our hope that this inaugural year for HPC in the City will be just the beginning, leaving a lasting footprint in each city we have the privilege to visit, one that adds greater dimension to our committed pursuit to move the needle and engage all bright minds.

Learn more about inclusivity at SC.

Kelly Gaither
SC20 Inclusivity Chair

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