Breakout session - Supporting diversity in the R community (R forwards panel)


Yanina Bellini Saibene´s Presentation Script for the panel “Supporting diversity in the R community (R forwards panel)”

My name is Yanina and I live with my husband and my two beautiful children in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina, in South America. I am a scientist.

I am the first generation in my family to complete highschool. I won two scholarships at my job, which allowed me to finish my undergrad degree in Information Systems and a masters degree in Data Mining.

I had to work from an early age. I started teaching programming when I was 15 and never stopped. I love teaching, because education is one of the few tools that people like I, in countries like mine, have to improve our lives. Especially because it is esential to narrow the structural inequalities in our society. This is why, during the pandemic, I co-founded MetaDocencia, an organization to expand good teaching practices to Spanish-speaking teachers for free. It is also one of the reasons I have to love communities of practice such as R-Ladies.

I became part of the R Community 3 years ago when I started the R-Ladies Santa Rosa Chapter, now I am part of the R-Ladies Global Team. I am a co-founder and co-chair of LatinR and part of the team that translates R material into Spanish.

I want to thank R Forwards for inviting me to be part of this panel. I’ve dedicated over 20 hours per week to the R community in the last three years, and this is the first time I am participating in one of the largest R conferences. I hope this will be the first of many.

My experience in the R community has been very positive. However, I think that the community must work harder at some points to improve diversity.

R-Ladies was the first community that made me feel welcome. Before that, I tried with other tech communities where I had a very different experience. I was rejected because I didn’t speak English, I am a woman, I don’t have a PhD, I don’t have many followers on Twitter, I live too far away and in a such small town that many Argentinians make jokes that the place doesn’t really exist. Being far from a larger city means that I can’t access conferences, training and other activities. But, when an ally listens to the voices that represent people like me, opportunities such as becoming an RStudio Certified Instructor can happen which, in turn, allowed me to help other URMs succeed at getting the certification.

Criteria to access any type of perks in our community must be carefully crafted, including minorities feedback to make sure we are not excluding, discouraging, or leaving valuable people out. Let me be clear, I am not meaning that URMs should do diversity and inclusion consulting for free. But if you will ask someone, you have to ask us. Some people say “nothing for us, without us” and I agree with that.

This is the second time I dare to speak in public in English. What I am saying in a few minutes took many hours trying to write my personal thoughts in foreign words. Besides, I needed to practice the pronunciation so you can understand my beautiful accent.

My work load for achieving the same is several times higher than for a native English speaker. I do not only have to be able to afford to learn another language, I also must learn all accepted international courtesy rules, the humor, how to read between the lines, and silences. I have to write in two languages, because if it’s not in Spanish, most people from my region can’t use it, but if it’s not in English, it doesn’t exist.

Language, education access, and location are good examples that not all of us start to participate from the same place and with the same tools in the R community. In my opinion, if we strive for equity, we must work harder to eliminate these barriers and people with the disadvantages shouldn’t be the ones doing all the hard work.

For many of us, the R Community is a very important resource. Being involved at the international level allows us to transfer information and opportunities to our region faster. It also gives us the chance to network with peers and stakeholders. All of this helps us improve our local reality. But since there are not enough people that represent minorities from the Global South in teams were decisions are made, it is very challenging to open up spaces of conversation where we can discuss complex situations to increase inclusion in a safe way. Currently, the risk of disagreeing feels really high. That is why many people from minorities don’t speak up or decide to stay aside and focus on local changes rather than speaking up to end bigger structural biases. But, if we don’t get involved, we will always be excluded from the international picture.

In order to change this, minority groups must be part of the decision-making tables where the future of R is decided. We need a much better balance of power. Also, work division inside the community must be evenly distributed in transparent ways and more public recognition should be given to all those who work behind the scenes enabling R to progress.

In my opinion, this is how we are really going to embrace inclusion and diversity in the R community.

Yanina Bellini Saibene

Researcher at INTA.