We all aspire to live and work in a gender-neutral world, where discrimination, racism, biases, and inequity are obsolete. Women’s underrepresentation in the tech community has been a recurring subject of controversy and is a concerning reality.
I had the honor and pleasure to chat with Dina Ayman, a major figure in the tech community. Dina is a Program Manager at Microsoft, a Professor of Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
Dina gracefully shared her experience being a Muslim woman of color in the tech field with us. She embraces her multi-layered identity, and plays a crucial role by advancing the representation of women in tech — and mentoring the next generation!
MuslimGirl: First, tell us about yourself!
Dina Ayman: I’m a Program Manager at Microsoft, a Professor of Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
I graduated with both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in computer engineering in the same year, and was labeled the first Egyptian to do so in all newspapers and by the U.S. Embassy. Prior to Microsoft and teaching, I have worked with Intel for two years, and served on the Technology and Telecommunication Commission for the City of Austin, Texas, reporting to the Mayor’s Office.
MG: Congratulations on your accomplishments! You are a role model for all women and girls in the tech field. How do you reflect on Muslim women’s achievements in the last past few years?
DA: Thank you so much, it means the world to me to be able to inspire and support others in the tech field. I love to see Muslim women win; to put the right image of what we are capable of into the world, and that we have the power to achieve anything we set our minds to do.
MG: What is your experience working in a male-dominated industry? I don’t think it’s any secret that many women in the tech industry have felt their gender, and — in your case, your religious beliefs — have affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
DA: I love being in a male-dominated field, and it’s always a motivation for me. I’m driven by the obstacles and challenges I face in life. The more difficult I find it, the more I’m determined to rise.
I’m lucky I’ve never had to experience any discrimination with my hijab at any of the companies or universities I’ve worked with, but I know that it does exist. And if I ever was treated any differently, I won’t be working for such a company, because my work is what makes the projects I’m working on succeed, not my beliefs, nor how I look.
MG: On a brighter note, what do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
DA: Women by nature are so detailed-oriented, and that gives a different perspective when you’re creating technology. Even after all the work to raise the number of women in technology, women still only make up 28% of tech. When you’re a minority, you have so much share, and a lot of perspectives that need to be heard. I think the best part, for me, is having that seat at the table where your voice is heard, and representing other women.
MG: What are your biggest success and biggest learning opportunity?
DA: My biggest success is being able to show others, especially immigrants, that success is possible. That their dreams are worth fighting for. That they too can make it to where they want to be.
In terms of learning, I’m always looking at how to improve my skills, and what responsibilities I should add on. I’m a big believer in Albert Einstein’s quote “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
There is never a time where someone should think they don’t have a learning opportunity. There is always something to learn.
MG: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
DA: There will be times where you are the only woman, in the room but that’s your power. Don’t let that discourage you from anything you want to achieve. Women are critical to any business success, and you have to always work hard on having a place where decisions are made. Make that your motivation, and know that the sky is your limit.
MG: How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women? How do you combat biases in the tech industry?
DA: I believe in the power of representation. We need to put more spotlights on successful, diverse women for others to see someone that looks like them in the place where they want to be.
MG: What was your dream job as a child? Did you always have an interest in technology? Did you intend to pursue a career in tech?
DA: I always loved math, and wanted to be an engineer since middle school, before I even knew what engineering was. But my love for technology started in high school; the idea that I can create something here in the U.S. that would be used on the other side of the world was always fascinating for me. And I was always blown away by how technology is in everything we use, and how it makes life way easier.
MG: Where would you like to see yourself in your career and personal life in the next few years?
DA: I really enjoy my two jobs as a program manager with Microsoft, and as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. But I have a huge passion for diversity and inclusion, and have served on a lot of diversity and inclusion leadership committees that allowed me to see ways to integrate it in a better way. I’m currently in the process of opening my own company for diversity and inclusion services in the workspace.
MG: What motivates you every day?
DA: One of the things that motivate me the most is being a minority. I know I’m one of very few Muslim, Arab, hijabi, and women of color in my field. This puts a huge responsibility on me to be the best in everything I do to represent my awesome people in the best way. Being a Muslim Arab hijabi woman in the States is not easy at all. We get judged, labeled, and discriminated against pretty often! Instead of being brought down, I’m always motivated to work super hard to be the person people look up to.
MG: Who are a few people that you admire?
DA: I’m so thankful for my family and mentors in the tech field. They always push me to do more. In life, you will find people that bet on your success and others that bet on your failure; make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right ones that believe in you.
MG: Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself!
DA: A fun fact about me is that I was taking on the mother role at home for 10 years for my three younger siblings. My mom used to live in Egypt, and because of immigration issues, we had to wait for her for 10 years to finally make it to live with us. In those 10 years, I had experienced how being a mom feels. Even though it was really tough to do so for a high school girl, it absolutely shaped the person I am today.
Special and warm thanks to Dina for her collaboration on this interview. If you’d like to connect with Dina, follow her on Instagram!