Dina Ayman faced many hurdles on her path toward becoming an engineer. Not only is it an overwhelmingly — 87 percent — male-dominated field, but her father wanted her to pursue a completely different career.
“He thought that girls go to med school and boys go to engineering,” said Ayman, who is Egyptian-American. “It took him a few years to accept it.”
After rising the ranks of Intel and Microsoft, launching her own diversity and inclusion startup and being honored in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for her achievements in enterprise technology, Ayman, 28, is pulling a completely different move that she admitted will shock her family, and maybe the world.
On April 1, Ayman is going to compete in the Miss New Jersey USA competition. If she wins, she would become the first hijabi woman to win the state competition.
In 2016, a 19-year-old Somali woman named Halima Aden famously became the first hijabi competitor in Minnesota, but she did not win.
“I want to win Miss New Jersey, and then I want to go to Miss USA,” Ayman said. “And I want to win.”
Ayman said she is competing to give more visibility to women who look like her.
“I feel like I’m not competing for myself. I’m competing for other Arab girls who look like me. All the hijabis, all the little ones who think they might have limited possibilities and might have a limited chance of what they can do. I want to do it for them,” she said.
Growing up a leader
Ayman was born in New Jersey to Egyptian parents. She spent several years in Egypt, then moved to Chatham, New Jersey when she was in middle school. Due to immigration issues, her mother was in Egypt for 11 years trying to come into the United States. Ayman assumed a motherly role to her three younger siblings.
“I took them to school, the doctor, I cooked and cleaned,” Ayman said. “It taught me to do things myself, so that I could teach my siblings. I didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t do things. I wanted to show them they could do anything.”
Ayman developed an early talent for math and physics and fell in love with technology. Against her father’s initial wishes, she studied engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology, where she currently teaches. She became a program manager at Intel before moving to Microsoft.
She became passionate about diversity and inclusion when she was tapped to lead those efforts at Intel’s Austin branch. There, she worked directly with employees in the company and led leadership conferences. She leaned harder into D&I, eventually launching the startup, Diversity and Inclusion Power, a resource for universities and corporations.
Ayman also works as an ambassador for a program in Egypt that is working to reduce poverty and provide job opportunities for 15 million underserved citizens. In January, she received an award directly from Egypt’s President for her work at the World Youth Forum.
From engineering to pageants
Through all those pursuits, Ayman quietly harbored a different interest.
“I’ve always loved fashion, and I always wanted to compete in pageants when I was younger, but my parents wanted me to focus on my education and not get distracted,” said Ayman.
When she finally told her family that she was competing this year for the first time, they had their doubts.
“I’ve been talking about it for a long time, and my sister and my father said I probably didn’t have a chance, because of the hijab. But, that only made me more motivated,” she said.
Ayman will be competing among 120 competitors, according to the Miss New Jersey website. Ayman said she has been working hard on taking care of her body, practicing her walks and poses for the stage, and preparing for the interview questions.
Ayman will wear her hijab during the competition, and her burkini - a full body scuba-like swimsuit - during the swimsuit portion of the competition. During interviews, Ayman will discuss her work in technology, diversity and equality. She said she is excited to show her true self to the judges.
“I feel like I should be treated as who I am, and not how nice or how pretty or how sexy I look. That’s not the way people should perceive or judge me,” said Ayman. “In a way, I think a hijab will help them be closer to my personality.”