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“Follow the Golden Rule — Pull People Up With You” with Penny Bauder & Dr. Ellison Anne Williams

My advice to anyone pursuing careers in STEM is to think less about the faces who may be in the room with you and more about finding something that interests and inspires you. There are many worthy pursuits in STEM — highlighting the range of careers and the women who discovered or, in some cases, […]

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My advice to anyone pursuing careers in STEM is to think less about the faces who may be in the room with you and more about finding something that interests and inspires you. There are many worthy pursuits in STEM — highlighting the range of careers and the women who discovered or, in some cases, created them can encourage the next generation of leaders to not limit their own possibilities.


Dr. Ellison Anne Williams is the Founder and CEO of Enveil. Building on more than a decade of experience leading avant-garde efforts in the areas of large-scale analytics, information security, computer network exploitation, and network modeling, Ellison Anne founded the startup in 2016 to protect sensitive data while it’s being used or processed — the ‘holy grail’ of data encryption. She started her career at the U.S. National Security Agency and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics (Algebraic Combinatorics), a M.S. in Mathematics (Set Theoretic Topology), and a M.S. in Computer Science (Machine Learning).


Thank you so much for joining us Ellison Anne! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was actually pre-med when I started college with the intention of pursuing something in the field of infectious diseases. That eventually evolved into double majoring in math and French (just because…). The math portion was kind of fun, so I decided to see where that path led. I went to graduate school still unsure of what I ultimately wanted to do, but then it just led on and on. When I graduated with my PhD in Mathematics, a door opened to work in the National Security Agency, the largest employer of mathematicians in the world. In that setting, challenges exist at a scale you don’t often encounter in the private sector and require very creative and unique solutions. I enjoyed working to support the mission and my years there provided me with an excellent foundation, but I’m an entrepreneur at heart, come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and always wanted to start my own businesses. When there was an opportunity to take a piece of the technology I worked on out of the NSA to commercialize it, and I jumped at the chance.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

On the heels of kicking off our flagship TechSprint event in London this summer, we were hustling through a Tube station during rush hour when our head of sales accidently kicked off my shoe. It landed in an unrecoverable position under the train so I navigated the rest of my journey through the busy tube stations wearing only a very thin dress sock. The only shoe store that I could readily find at the next station only had shoes a size too small for me — which I purchased and hobbled around in for the remainder of the trip.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m guessing there are few experiences where you learn more in a short amount of time than in the early days as a founder and CEO. The experience is still fresh to me so it’s challenging to step back and fully process it all yet, but rest assured I made many mistakes. I think the most important thing is to accept that challenges and mistakes are all part of the process and that each miscue will leave you better equipped to take on what comes next.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Enveil is focused on protecting Data in Use to enable secure search, sharing, and collaboration. We secure data while it’s being used or processed by leveraging a technology called homomorphic encryption which allows data to be processed in its encrypted state. By remaining focused on eliminating the Data in Use security gap, we complement data-at-rest and data-in-transit encryption to fill a gap in the overall the data security landscape to ensure sensitive data remains protected throughout the processing lifecycle. When we started the company a little more than three years ago, this was a problem very few people were talking about so we really had to start from scratch to build a market.

Just a few months after starting the company, we applied for RSA’s Innovation Sandbox competition, the industry’s leading contest for up-and-coming security companies to pitch their cyber innovations. We were accepted to present — the youngest company ever to participate — and were ultimately named one of the winners. It was a whirlwind way to start the company but it provided great exposure and opened a number of doors that would have taken much longer for us to pursue without that jumping off point.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

There is great momentum in the market right for a number of secure data collaboration use cases, especially in financial services community. Right now we are finalizing our Series A funding and also working on several new product lines that we’ll be announcing in the months ahead.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

While there will likely always be room for change and improvement, I try not to think of it as a scoreboard that will eventually align. Women should pursue subjects and roles they are interested in and seek out mentors — both women and men — who can help guide them down that chosen path. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout the various stages of my career and I support any efforts that seek to make mentorship the rule rather than the exception. Having access to a women already working in their chosen field can give women the confidence to ask questions and seek opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I have spent the majority of my career in settings where I am frequently one of the only females in the room. When women starting off their careers in STEM ask me about this, I recommend the approach that I have always tried to take for myself: be too busy pursuing substantive pursuits to notice and do the best that you can to bring other women up with you. As women in technology, we should not want to be included because we are a woman in technology, but rather because of our contributions in the space. Don’t be the token female in the room — stand up for the substance.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I think the most frustrating myth that I’ve faced during my own career — and I’m sure if shared by many other women in STEM — is the idea that we’re only in a given position because we’re a woman. Nonsense. I’ve worked hard to be where I am and will continue to take advantage of each door opened to me by being a person of substance with a passion for the work I do.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why.

  1. Do the right thing — be a person of integrity.
  2. Follow the Golden Rule — pull people up with you.
  3. It’s amazing the problems that creativity can solve.
  4. There is no such thing as work-life balance.
  5. There are some people whose opinions who you will never change. Ignore them.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice to anyone pursuing careers in STEM is to think less about the faces who may be in the room with you and more about finding something that interests and inspires you. There are many worthy pursuits in STEM — highlighting the range of careers and the women who discovered or, in some cases, created them can encourage the next generation of leaders to not limit their own possibilities.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Lead by example and make decisions confidently.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Tim Eades, who serves as one of our board members, has provided great mentorship, counsel, and insight for me throughout this journey. He has sacrificed countless Sunday afternoons to chat with me and I am endlessly grateful for his guidance and support.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think the best way to have an impact is to be awesome at what you do. You can’t blaze a trail for the people who come behind you without first planting the flag through the substance of your own accomplishments.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Do the right thing and treat people as you want to be treated. It may be cliche, but it holds true from elementary school through every pursuit thereafter.

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