Why it's important to have greater diversity and inclusion for women in tech
Why Dina Ayman, an Egyptian-American engineer, is making a case for greater inclusion and diversity for women in tech
To many of us who are not part of it, tech inspires awe… perhaps even distance. Because while we are all beneficiaries of tech advancements, the field itself demands specialised knowledge… and thought. Look at the luminaries of the profession — Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jezz Bezos — and you know that lateral thinking is synonymous with acceleration in the field of technology. But think tech, and the names that come to mind are mainly those of men. So why have there been such few women leaving a mark in the industry? Interestingly, a 2021 McKinsey survey pointed to the fact that while the pandemic has enabled growth and expansion, only a small number of women are entering the field.
Gender inclusion and diversity are buzzwords across sectors, including tech. And now a 27-year-old Microsoft engineer has been stepping up to raise awareness on these two aspects. Dina Ayman is an Egyptian-American tech professional who has set up Diversity and Inclusion Power (DIP) in New Jersey, a company that advises corporations and universities to have greater inclusion that is customised to their needs; DIP also consults universities to bring diversity and inclusion to the academic spaces in the formative years of students.
Over the years, the industry has faced criticism for not being inclusive. But how these traits obstruct a young woman’s dreams is something that can be gauged from Dina’s own journey. “My love for technology started in high school,” she says. “The idea that I can create something in the US that would be used across the world was something that fascinated me. I was blown away by how technology is pervading into everything and how it makes life easier.”
In her early years, her family moved to Egypt for elementary and middle school education. But as soon as Dina was in eighth grade, her parents decided to move back to the US. While her father and three younger siblings did eventually shift, her mother was unable to do so. “During this time, as the older member of the family, I had to assume my mother’s role at home for my three younger siblings. In those years, I experienced how being a mom feels,” says Dina. “After a lot of sleepless nights, I graduated with both my B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in computer engineering in the same year (2018) from New Jersey Institute of Technology. The US Embassy labelled me the first Egyptian to do so in major newspapers.”
Despite the laurels, she remembers a time when her parents did not want her to be an engineer. “My parents told me that engineering was not for women,” she remembers. “When they insisted that I go to medical school instead because those majors were successful women, I began to doubt myself. For a second, I thought that they may be right and did transfer from engineering to medical school and lost a whole semester. But in that semester, I thought about my passion for technology. I felt it wasn’t that inclusive, after all, and I would not be able to succeed. But I didn’t see myself doing medical school either. That’s when I changed my majors to computer engineering. When I graduated and got into the field, I saw how most of the companies were trying to be inclusive and diverse.”
Today, as the technical program manager at Microsoft, Dina leads software engineering projects. But away from this role, she nurtures passion to raise awareness on the need for diversity and inclusion. In order to fulfil this long-cherished dream, she has served on various leadership committees to create a culture “where everyone is happy and proud to be in the company”. “I have served on the leadership committees with Intel, Microsoft and the US Government to create opportunities for minorities and make sure they are very well included.”
Despite greater awareness, ground realities have not changed in many sectors and tech is no different. Dina admits that women were not easily accepted in the field and that inequalities of stature and pay have been prevalent, but insists that it takes “our voices to speak up and make it a ‘top of mind’ for all the industries”. There is, after all, power in 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,” she says, emphasising that awareness on these matters also needs to start at the level of tech education.
Looking at the UAE, Dina is all praise for developments and enhancements in tech that the region has witnessed in recent years, which has also made life easier for those residing here. “Every time I am in the UAE, I really admire how the government is advancing in the technology they bring and use everywhere. I want to say special thanks to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, for launching a national programme that aims to train 100,000 coders, establish 1,000 tech companies that will go global and increase startup investments from Dh1.5 billion to Dh4 billion,” she says. “I love the steps the government is taking in the world of digital economy and truly seeing the future.”