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Tech veteran recounts years of struggle as a woman in the workplace

Union Leader Correspondent

October 10. 2018 9:28PM
Gaynelle Swann was the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Women in Technology event in Portsmouth on Tuesday. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

PORTSMOUTH — A tech industry veteran who helped launch Southern Hampshire University’s College of Engineering, Technology and Aeronautics says she struggled in the workplace over the years to be accepted and secure promotions.

Gaynelle Swann, the keynote speaker Tuesday night at the fifth annual Women in Technology event at 3S Art Space in Portsmouth, worked in the automotive, aerospace and defense industries.

This year’s theme was “Seeing Herself There” and focused on the importance of role models and mentors for young women entering STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Swann said when she was first introduced to engineering during an internship between high school and college, she knew that as an African-American woman, she was not welcome by the men there.

“Because it was their space, not mine,” Swann told a group of 90 people who attended the event. “I studied them, I observed them and eventually over time I reprogrammed them just a little bit.”

But the unwelcomed feeling never quite went away, she said. During the course of her 27-year career, Swann said her outgoing personality and love for fashionable clothing was deemed a liability by management and she had to push for advancement while her white, male counterparts did not need to bring as much to the table to climb the ladder.

“It was a different standard,” Swann said. “They’d say, ‘We were really looking to have someone more senior for this role’ without even glancing at my resume or years of service.”

Eventually, Swann said she left the industry to focus on education and STEM advocacy. She said it is the role of women currently working in STEM fields to mentor the young women who come behind them.

At the same time, the workplace needs to become more than bearable so tech industries don’t continue to lose qualified women, Swann said.

“It’s not enough to stay, women have to thrive,” Swann said to a round of applause.

Research suggests women leave the fields of science, engineering and technology 10 years into their career on average, according to

After Swann’s speech, participants held a roundtable discussion and had an opportunity to network.

Tori Leavitt of Market Street Talent helped organize the event. She said this year’s crowd was the biggest they have ever had.

Attendees included groups from St. Anselm College, University of New Hampshire, SNHU, the Diversity Workforce Coalition and New Hampshire Tech Alliance.

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