Women's representation and experiences in the high performance computing community
Gender imbalance in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been a research subject for years. Studies have shown potential reasons leading to the underrepresentation of women in such disciplines and have suggested why and how to improve the gender balance and women's experiences in these areas. The High Performance Computing (HPC) community, which spans various STEM subjects and relies on advanced scientific research, might present a similar picture. The aim of this thesis is to understand the gender demographics of the HPC community, to identify the underlying reasons of a potential gender imbalance, and to suggest effective ways of improvement. Since HPC is such a broad community, to obtain a first picture of the proportion of women in the HPC community, we decided to examine historical demographics of two different settings which are potential indicators of the participation and contribution of women in the community, namely HPC-related conferences and HPC training courses. From the analysis of these quantitative data, we found that women were fewer than men in all the categories of conference participation that we examined, and that women were outnumbered by men at all levels and years of the courses examined. Our study reveals an underrepresentation of women in the HPC community, along the lines of what already observed in STEM disciplines. Additionally, we conducted a survey in order to further understand the reasons of the gender imbalance and to find out from the people within the HPC community what could be done to address the issue. Results from our survey indicate that the clear majority of both women and men forming the HPC community come from a STEM background, which is considered as the main reason of women's underrepresentation by the participants of this study. We also discovered that women are less likely to receive training and to develop software, both crucial factors for using HPC facilities for research purposes. Gender differences are also found in the impact of parenthood on career progression; the perception of gender discrimination in workplace and conference environments; the importance of gender balance, mentoring, role models and Equality and Diversity awareness in the HPC community. Similar findings and gender differences are also highlighted and confirmed by the results of further qualitative approaches of this study. We conducted interviews and focus group discussions with selected and recommended individuals of the community, to support and interpret previously obtained data, and to stimulate new ideas or hypotheses for future work. According to the interviewees and the participants to focus group discussions, one of the main challenges of the HPC community is its image of a closed, inaccessible, "geeky" area, which focuses on the size, speed and power of supercomputers, rather than on their use for solving problems in research and in life. This might be one reason that makes the community unattractive to women. Also, of significant importance for the current diversity status of the community is the fact that HPC is not well-promoted as a research tool, especially to more gender-balanced non-STEM subjects, in combination with the lack of formal (HPC and programming) training and of women in senior positions. This thesis forms the first step to understand the womens representation and experiences within the HPC community. All the topics studied, and the evidence gathered in this thesis have provided significant insight to enable further research on the best practices for improvement in the HPC community and related STEM fields.