How R-Ladies changed my view on feminism

A year of change in the eyes of an organizer.

Olga Ivanova

One day I received an email inviting women to join the R-Ladies community in Amsterdam. At that moment, my russian roots and I were quite convinced that the equality question is more or less resolved in Europe, so the purpose of R-Ladies in Amsterdam was blurry to me. Nevertheless, curiosity won - I responded to the Google form in the email, and little did I know what was going to follow. A couple of other non-profits I wanted to be involved with before did not end up with any follow-ups or anything regular. “No expectation” became my slogan and I decided to just wait and see how it unfolds with R-Ladies.

First meeting of co-organizers

I remember the day of the first meeting with the other co-organizers. This day (of course) everything went wrong: my jeans tore up mid-day, in the most awkward body place (imagine what that should be). Just before the meeting, I sneaked into the nearest store that sold decent jeans and rushed to buy the first pair that fitted. Luckily, I avoided other awkward situations around my clothes after that.

Five young women (at that moment we were 5) sat in a hipster-like café and talked about who can do what. Neither of us had a defined idea nor a proper experience in organizing an event for a non-profit party.

I was happy to meet a fellow bioinformatician - Tess. I was amazed by the energy coming from Ilse. And Janine seemed to be soft and a bit shy, at the same time professional and to the point. This was the first evening together, and I knew from that moment that I would love to be involved: I felt energized, motivated and empowered.

First events – my views are challenged

The first event was a big thing for us and it turned out to be a big success! Our sponsor - Trivago - was tricky to find in the packed center of Amsterdam. I bet some of our attendees never actually found us and flooded the local cafés instead. The rest of the co-organizers were going a bit crazy, they were all over the place worrying about how everything will work out. I felt that everything was under control and going smoothly. To my surprise, I already learned something during the first meetup: I realized that the equality question is far from being resolved in Western society, although it may not be as sharply defined as in Eastern Europe. After Trivago’s presentation on the tidyverse (that also stimulated me to learn more packages from the tidyverse universe), we started to share personal stories about why we are all here, what happened to us in the past, and what we look for in this community. I also shared my own stories of a being young woman in the IT world in Russia which didn’t have any extreme elements but involved lots of struggles. Being in this circle of fellow R-Ladies, I felt understood, that I was not judged and nobody would dare to tell me it’s all in your head. I saw that the community was not only there for learning but also for sharing, uniting, mentoring, leading, and empowering women. That is why I continued being a part of R-Ladies.

Previously, it was not even clear to myself what position I took on feminism. At work, I unintentionally tried to mimic male behavior. I kind of looked down on women that demonstrated any feminine traits or showed any emotions, thinking that it is not professional. I was also afraid that behaving feminine would make me a sexual object and a weak employee in the eyes of others. Since then, my opinion has changed quite drastically, and I finally defined for myself what should be appropriate at a working place and how I can behave without changing who I am. Although I still believe that we all (men and women) should be moderate in how much skin we should show at work, I stopped thinking that crying or showing distress signals weakness and should be frowned upon. For that change, I want to thank not only the R-Ladies community itself, but also the other amazing women I encountered in my professional life in Amsterdam. In my time in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to work with amazing women and learned from them by оbserving them and their lives. Also, my views on emotions at the workplace and how women can lead were challenged at the Women in Tech Regatta in Amsterdam in 2018, that we attended as R-Ladies co-organizers.

Final words

At the later events, I have witnessed changes in all of us co-organizers. Janine was getting bolder and raising her confidence in what she was doing: going to companies for discussing sponsorship, constantly looking around for new connections and ideas, tirelessly pushing the community to the next level. Tess, going through the last stages of her future Dr title, working as a post-doc, moving to a new house, defending her thesis and (among all that!) still finding time for co-organizing. I constantly stayed amazed by Ilse - how present, energetic, adaptive and super bold she was (and is) although life was not always treating her with sugar rain. We all went through some serious personal changes and challenges this year.

So here we are, one year later. My life turned upside down during this year. I can’t even enumerate all of the things that happened, some happy and some very sad. I was not always there for the events and I am a bit sad about it. Throughout this year, I learned a lot from our events, I changed my views on feminism, and I am grateful to all co-organisers for the fun we had together and for the constant support I gave and received from R-Ladies. I definitely didn’t expect from this community to be more than just some people coming together once in a while and nurturing R expertise; I actually found new friends. Me, Ilse and Tess left for new adventures (and Janine, as we wrote in one of the meetings’ notes will stay forever), and I keep my hopes high that this community will continue to thrive and shine.