Jennifer Le, a pageant champion with a multitude of qualities, is more than meets the eye
The women who compete in pageants like Miss USA or Mrs. World are always impressive. They are confident, they are well-spoken, and they advocate for issues they care about deeply.
Mrs. World 2019—Jennifer Le (BA 2011)—is no different. And “Mrs. World” isn’t the only title Le has held. She’s also mother, entrepreneur, tech executive and advocate for gender equity in her field.
Le’s family immigrated from Vietnam and settled in Kent. She was a first-generation college student when she was accepted into the Foster School of Business.
The summer before her freshman year at the UW, she decided to try her luck at a pageant. Like many, she grew up watching Miss America and was inspired by the women in the competition.
“I admired the women and was inspired by their poise and confidence,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence when I was younger. I was curious what it would be like to compete in a pageant.”
She entered Miss Vietnam Global in 2007. And, with what she describes as beginner’s luck, she won. This meant spending a memorable year juggling studies with her duties as Miss Vietnam Global, which saw her traveling out of state three to four times a month.
Le continued competing in pageants during her time at Foster. She was third runner-up Miss Washington in 2010.
Back in the game
After graduation, she joined Accenture as a business analyst before moving into consulting. After giving birth to her son, she transitioned to a recruiting position that allowed her to travel less and work remotely. This new role took her to Facebook, where she recruited PhDs specializing in machine learning.
By this point, Le thought she was done with pageantry. “Once I had my son I was completely focused on my family,” she says.
Then a friend told her about Mrs. Vietnam, a pageant for married women. Her family heritage qualified her.
“I decided to go for it,” she says. “Being a mom—it’s the best thing in the world. But it is also very challenging, especially at the beginning. I was so invested in trying to be a good mother that I kind of lost a sense of myself. I felt I needed to do something just for me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from motherhood, it’s that self-care is not selfish. By filling and refilling our cup, we are able to continue to pour into others with energy and enthusiasm.”
Le went for it and won. Then she represented Vietnam at the Mrs. World 2019 pageant in Las Vegas, where she earned the global crown.
Platform for progress
Le’s platform during the Mrs. World competition was getting more women into tech, a problem she noticed as a recruiter.
“When I worked at Facebook, I realized just how few women engineers there are,” she says. “I think it’s gotten a little bit better, but we still have a long way to go.”
Le spent her year as Mrs. World traveling to different countries to see how other organizations are working to close the gender gap in the tech industry. She has partnered with Girls Who Code and founded Female for Tech, a non-profit focused on getting girls interested in STEM at an early age, then providing scholarships to support their education later.
“We’re surrounded by technology. And, in the future, it’s going to be even more present in our lives,” says Le. “I think it’s important that there are women at the table, helping build these technologies, because how can it be relevant for us if we don’t have a voice?”
On top of her advocacy work, Le is currently running her own e-commerce company, a goal she’s had since she started studying business at Foster. The lessons she learned competing in pageants prepared her well for a venture into entrepreneurship.
“Pageants taught me perseverance,” she says. “There were competitions that I didn’t win. Moments of disappointment and defeat not only build character and humility, but also they can help motivate and inspire you to work harder to get to where you want to be.”