Writer and editor who crafts stories about travel, food, feminism, and communication. Formerly at a hedge fund in NYC, currently a content-creator-at-large roaming around Latin America. Big fan of carrot cake and honesty.
Chainalysis’s Ashley Vaughan on Why She Finds Cybersecurity So Meaningful, and How More Women Can Find Their Niche in the Industry
How much money do criminals control today, and where is it?
These are some of the many questions that Ashley Vaughan, Senior Solutions Architect at blockchain data platform Chainalysis, spends her days working to answer.
“You learn more about a situation or problem by following the money than from any other resource or piece of information,” she explains. “Money doesn't lie. People can lie in text messages or other means, but the path of the money leads you to what you're trying to accomplish.”
Though Ashley always knew she wanted to work with computers, she found her way into roles in cybersecurity, and then specifically blockchain security, through networking and exposure — not by setting out to do so.
We sat down to talk about her career journey, as well as what advice she has for other women looking to make their mark in these burgeoning fields.
Resilience and Curiosity
Ashley doesn’t often give up, and credits some of that attitude to an obsession with soccer as a kid.
“Playing sports makes you a more resilient person, I think. You learn failure and risk, which are very applicable to my job and my career path,” she says.
That resiliency was a good thing, notes Ashley, because as a young girl, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue what she was most interested in: math and science. A teacher early on had told her that she wasn’t good at math, and Ashley believed that narrative until high school.
“We really shouldn’t put those ideas in children’s minds, because it affects them for much longer than you might think,” she says of the experience. “But I’m the kind of person that when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more, and do it better.”
Finding out in advanced high school math classes that she actually was good at math turned into choosing a computer engineering major when she got to college.
Graduating during a recession in 2010 meant Ashley didn’t have the job market of her dreams, but after working in IT, she networked her way into a role in the cybersecurity department of a prominent DC law firm.
“They were getting hit left and right from social engineering and phishing attempts,” says Ashley. “Due to the sensitive nature of the work they dealt with, I was exposed to the darker realities of the digital era, and I began to see a new side to the world—one of real significance to national security.”
Specializing in Cybersecurity — and Finding a Home in the Private Sector
Inspired by what she was working on at the law firm, Ashley pursued a master’s in cybersecurity with a focus on counterterrorism.
“I wanted to help protect our country,” she explains. “I have a lot of family members who are former military, so that was a natural step for me.”
That led to her taking a contract role specializing in offensive security at a government agency that frequently worked with Chainalysis. After working with Chainalysis folks onsite, she was sold and started pursuing a position with the company.
“I wanted to help make sense of blockchain data for a bigger purpose, like assisting in the continued threat of ransomware activity against American interests,” she explains.
Although she credits her public sector work with providing a solid foundation in blockchain security, the private sector turned out to be a better fit for her.
“What I love about Chainalysis is that my colleagues are really happy people, and I’ve always felt welcome and not scared to ask questions,” says Ashley. “In past jobs, where I was one of five women in a group of 150, I felt a lot of pressure. I didn’t ever want to make a mistake. I felt as if I had to be a chameleon to match the social environment of my male counterparts.”
Blockchains are all about democratizing data, and Ashley likes working with a team of people of all backgrounds to help support that mission. At Chainalysis, Ashley works with internal product and engineering to show customers how Chainalysis data can help them use complex blockchain solutions to solve data problems — and catch bad guys.
“Sometimes we’re following a bad actor who’s tied to child sex trafficking. Being part of a coordinated operation to put a stop to things like that is really fulfilling,” she says.
3 Tips for Women Who Want to Find Their Place in Cybersecurity
For a long time, reflects Ashley, she just wanted to come into work, do her job, and feel supported, without feeling like she didn’t fit in or was representing her entire gender. Fortunately, she found what she wanted — and she hopes other women will find that, too. They can start their search by:
- Knowing they’re not alone in having tough experiences. “Everyone has different definitions for how you’re supposed to act or supposed to handle your emotions as a woman at work, and it’s exhausting. It’s like, ‘This is just me.’ I can’t repeat enough how tiring that is,” she says.
- Prioritizing self-directed learning. Although Ashley completed a master’s in cybersecurity, she emphasizes that there are many other routes into the industry, including self-study. Whether you get involved in programs like Girls Who Code or do self-paced learning through platforms like Udemy or Coursera, the important thing is that you pursue independent learning about topics that interest you, she says.
- Creating and maintaining relationships. “Really talking to people is almost a lost art,” says Ashley. “Getting together with someone who has the same sort of mindset and leveraging their knowledge, and making sure you keep in touch with people who help further your career, is a good move. Most of the places I got to professionally were based on my human connections.”
Nowadays at Chainalysis, Ashley is no longer one of five women in the office, and is excited to start paying it forward so that more people with backgrounds like hers can pursue their own professional success.
“We tend to feel more comfortable talking to people who might have our same gender or educational background, and being open and vulnerable with them,” she says. “Being a visible role model is really important to me.”
Check out Chainalysis’ open roles here!
Joseph Arquillo doesn’t work in Human Resources — he works in People Operations. And the distinction matters.
“It was named ‘human resources’ because it saw humans as resources, utilized for certain tasks or behaviors. But that’s not really what it’s about,” says Joseph, who is a Senior Manager of People Ops at Clyde.
“Calling it ‘people ops’ adds back what you lose with ‘HR.’ My philosophy is that I am there to support you. I am there to work with you, empower you, and enable you so you can be your best self.”
For Joseph, a key element of helping employees become their best selves is making sure that the workplace, whether in-person or virtual, is an inclusive space for all. That doesn’t happen by accident — it requires a dedicated DEIB strategy and leaders who are committed to asking hard questions of themselves and others.
We sat down with Joseph to hear more about his professional journey, and the practices of leaders who create environments where everyone feels included.
More Than Just a Number
As a college freshman, Joseph planned on sticking with liberal arts when it came to choosing a major. But then he took a class in Boston College’s School of Education, and loved its holistic approach to applied psychology.
This inspired him to switch his major to psychology and human development, and select minors in political science, and management and leadership, where he enjoyed learning about organizational psychology.
After graduation, he explored the consulting space to put theory into practice, but found out during an internship at a multinational consulting firm that finance or accounting weren’t the places he wanted to build his career.
“Since Big Four companies have 250,000 employees, you become just a number,” he says of the experience. “It wasn’t my cup of tea. Too corporatized.”
That kicked off Joseph’s interest in startups.
“It’s always fun to get in the weeds! One thing that’s very interesting to me is a challenge,” he says. “When you’re helping a company like Clyde grow and scale, joining when they’re at a Series B and helping them get to the next level, you really get to focus on the interaction between people, process, and product,” explains Joseph. “You need to hire the right people to work towards increasing efficiencies in all areas, but also make sure that we’re enabling them to create a strong product.”
6 Keys To Building Inclusive Spaces as a Leader
Across the different industries and companies that Joseph has worked in, he’s identified the behaviors that create truly inclusive environments — as well as those that discourage them.
Here’s what he’s seen:
- First, recognize your own privilege. “If you’re a man, you have privilege, even if you’re a gay male. If you are a white woman, you have racial privilege. It’s really important that you’re cognizant while you interact with somebody how they might interpret the interaction based on your identity.”
- Leaders should always speak last. This is important always, but especially in in-person spaces, where it might seem even more nerve-wracking to speak up in a crowd, says Joseph. “You want to make sure you’re creating that space for employees who aren’t as senior to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts.”
- And, leaders should use check-ins liberally. “You need to ask yourself how you’re supporting your employees. Are you checking in on them as people before you ask about certain tasks? You want to foster a workplace where employees from all walks of life can feel supported,” he says.
- DEIB isn’t just about adding new initiatives — sometimes it’s about removing barriers. “You need to remove unnecessary bias,” explains Joseph. “That can mean making sure you have appropriate policies and practices that don’t hinder people depending on who they are or where they live.”
- Maximizing participation requires planning with a diversity lens. Joseph has helped the Clyde team gather together and bond as a group. Along the way, he’s been careful to consider physical and psychological safety for everyone involved. “For instance, if you’re doing an event, do you have someone who’s not drinking? Have you set up the environment for people who might have a physical disability, or carefully planned the flow of activities for people who might be neurodivergent?”
- Saying you want to be better isn’t enough — articulate actions you will take. “Pride is a great example,” explains Joseph. “Yes, June is a time to celebrate. But it’s also a time to march. And beyond that, how do you show up and celebrate with the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year?”
Embracing the Unknown
If you visit Joseph’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see his personal motto: “Without challenge, change, and a bunch of unknowns, it’s no fun.”
That belief has led him to study what he’s passionate about, to take on new and exciting roles at growing startups, and now, at Clyde, to help formalize what world-class people operations looks like at a fast-growing company.
“I view myself as a connector that really empowers people, challenges teams, and helps drive us towards what I consider to be an improved future,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be the chief advocate for each of our employees, and remove any barriers in the way of their growth.”
6 Things You Should Know About Auditors from Healthfirst’s Director of Internal Controls, Donna Marie Paul
When Donna Marie Paul was in elementary school, she had a clear vision for her future.
“I knew I’d be the woman with her heels and her briefcase going into the office, dealing with numbers,” she said.
While she no longer goes into the office every day, her young self wasn’t far off.
After building a long career in auditing that sent Donna Marie around the world, including several years managing a team in China, she came back to Brooklyn, where she grew up, and took a role supporting the evolving and developing not-for-profit healthcare company Healthfirst’s controls function. Now, as Director of Internal Controls, she partners with various business units around the company to help them achieve their goals.
“There’s sometimes a negative connotation when people think of auditors because they think, ‘They’re here to get me.’ But our role is to help manage, oversee, and monitor everything that we do as a company,” says Donna Marie. “It’s about understanding the business, then finding the best ways to drive process improvement and actually bring something back to the table. It’s not just, ‘Hey, you did this wrong.’”
We sat down with Donna Marie to unpack more about what life in audit is like — and how her curiosity about people and the world has influenced her life and work.
That vision Donna Marie had as a kid included a Wall Street office. “I was always very good at math and calculations, and I knew I wanted to deal with numbers,” she says. She pursued that interest through high school, college, and into her first internships.
“Whenever I was visiting banks or financial institutions with my mom, I didn’t see a lot of people like me in power or being called upon,” says Donna Marie, who was born in Trinidad before moving to Brooklyn with her family as a child. “I knew I wanted to be a person that could open that door and show other girls like me that they’re smart, and that we can do it, too.”
Donna Marie was especially motivated to make her mother proud. “She sacrificed so much for my siblings and me, and I didn’t want her to think that the effort was wasted.”
And even though Donna Marie didn’t end up on Wall Street after her internships convinced her that she didn’t actually want a niched-down finance role, but a broader view of the business (which led her to audit), she knows her mom is, indeed, proud.
Adapting to Different Corporate Cultures
Until COVID hit, Donna Marie built her career in audit at Nokia. She’d started out in a management training program at Lucent Technologies, a telecommunications company that was later bought by the telecom giant. Years later, she was managing a team in China. That experience came to an end in 2019 and she moved back to the U.S.
After four years in China, Donna Marie felt ready for a new experience. She wanted to work in an environment that was driven by collaboration and discussion. And she wanted to explore a new industry and type of company.
She knew she wanted to find a job where she could be closer to the business and where she could see more clearly her impact. When Healthfirst reached out, she was thrilled about the chance to make an impact in what is literally her neighborhood and community.
“When you come from a public company, the dollars and cents drive a lot of the decision making. When you come to a not-for-profit health insurer that’s really focused on members, it’s the people. It’s about how we really make a difference,” she says. “I’ll meet our members when I’m out and about and listen to their experience and say, ‘Hey, I work for Healthfirst, how are we doing?’ I never did that when I was at Nokia.”
6 Things You Should Know About Auditors, Per Donna Marie
Digging into a business’s processes and figuring out how to make them better interests Donna Marie for the same reason living abroad did: she’s curious about how things work and loves to challenge herself.
“Auditing is the perfect balance for me. I love the opportunity to learn and to see where we can do better,” she says.
With the goal of sharing her love of the field with our readers, we asked her for insight on what people might not know—but should—about auditing:
- External and internal auditors do very different things. External auditors focus on numbers. “They’re about the financials and their accuracy,” she says. “Internal auditors are strategists. We’re here for the business, and while we do review the numbers, it’s coupled with the process around how we get to those numbers.”
- Compliance and audit aren’t the same, but similar. Compliance drives policies and procedures, and audit makes sure the business is adhering to them. “We work together — we scrutinize, pressure test, and identify gaps in how we’re doing against what compliance has laid out,” says Donna Marie.
- Audit at a fast-growing startup is all about reprioritization. “It’s always hard to optimize modernization and automation when companies grow quickly,” says Donna Marie, who is helping Healthfirst audit team implement a governance, risk, and compliance tool that allows internal teams to use a centralized database to automate alerts, tasks, and information.
- Auditors are there to learn. Her team is not considered experts about everything they need to know about a given department or process at the start, points out Donna Marie. “We’re here to help and use those learnings to bring value-added recommendations to the organization. We are here to ask questions, to understand, and to be vulnerable about that. With assistance, we can learn how to make things better.”
- Auditing is a skill you can learn on the job. “No one comes in and says, ‘I know it all,’” says Donna Marie, who points out that her background was in banking and finance, sales and use tax, and system implementation and project management. Being a successful auditor requires curiosity, inquisitiveness, and the open mindedness to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and maintain flexibility in what and how we learn. “The only way to be successful if you’re making that kind of leap is to work hard and trust your instinct.”
- The more diverse an audit team, the better. “The diversity of the team helps us to think differently. To think bigger. To challenge the norm. We were put in place to leverage our various skill sets to achieve the overall organizational and company objectives,” she says.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on June 18th, 2020
When did you learn what Juneteenth was?
For many Americans, particularly white Americans or those living outside of Texas, the annual holiday celebrated on June 19th isn't something they know about and certainly isn't something they celebrate. And that's a shame. (I, for one, learned about it several years ago on Twitter; none of my primary, secondary, or post-secondary education included even a mention of the day, and it took the tweets of a Black critic to make me look into what the holiday was and why it should be celebrated.)
Many more Americans learned about Juneteenth for the first time in 2020, when the holiday fell on day 20-something of nationwide protests over police brutality and the murders of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
No matter when you first learned about the holiday, it's important to understand not only its roots, but why it's so important to celebrate today.
We'll talk about what Juneteenth is and why it matters, and then we'll cover something we care deeply about as an organization committed to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: why companies should recognize it and how some of them are already doing so.
A Brief History of Juneteenth
Some people understand Juneteenth as the celebration of the end of slavery. But that's not quite it.
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. That was technically the day slavery ended in the U.S.
But enslaved people in Texas didn't know that until two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and told still-enslaved Black people there of their freedom and of the end of the Civil War. (Some historians note that slave masters may have withheld the information from their slaves in order to get another harvest out of them, and others highlight the lack of Union troops in the state to enforce it.)
The day turned into an important holiday for the Black community in Texas and beyond, particularly so after 1872, when a group of Black community leaders bought 10 acres of land in Houston and created Emancipation Park.
Now, big cities—including Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Houston—hold large events, parades, and festivals celebrating the day, and individual families and communities often gather to share food and celebrate.
Juneteenth is currently celebrated as a holiday in 46 states and D.C., though it's not a federal one and comes with no guaranteed time off.
It might be a paid holiday in the future, though, particularly if individual states and companies keep moving to make it so on a smaller scale. The governor of Virginia stated this week that he wanted to propose legislation to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday, and big companies like Twitter, Nike, Postmates, and the NFL have made the day a company holiday.
What Companies Are Doing — And What They Should Be Doing
Before diving in and highlighting what companies are doing, I want to share an important framing, inspired by this LinkedIn post by Aaisha Joseph: no amount of PR-friendly corporate statements or flashy moves will make up for investing the time, effort, and money in pursuing actively anti-racist policies at work.
That means that without a thorough policy review for unfair hiring, evaluation, or promotion policies; without doing a salary analysis and salary adjustments to identify and close the wage gap between Black and white employees; without asking for diverse slates of candidates in your hiring and creating environments for those candidates to succeed and move up the ranks of your organization; and without putting Black employees in leadership positions (and ensuring they're not pushed off the "glass cliff" while doing it), saying you're anti-racist—or celebrating Juneteenth—isn't enough.
It's a start. But we all need to push our companies to keep going long beyond that.
That being said, let's take a look at ways that some companies acknowledged their mistakes and took steps to create more inclusive workplaces by commemorating Juneteenth in 2020:
- Reddit made Juneteenth a company-wide day of education and activism, and they're encouraging employees to clear their meetings and instead spend the day engaging meaningfully with Black history.
- Amazon is also encouraging employees to cancel meetings and spend the day focused on "online learning opportunities" and "reflection," per CEO Jeff Bezos's memo to staff.
- Facebook is taking a similar approach and cancelling all meetings to engage "in conversation about the history, experiences and issues that Black Americans still face."
- Adobe is giving employees the day off to focus on reflection and advocacy.
- Autodesk, part of a group of companies participating in the #RecoverStronger Initiative has made the day a company-wide holiday
- Packet has also made the day a company-wide holiday
- PagerDuty is giving employees the day off and asking them to get involved through identified resources focused on giving money, volunteering time, advocating for justice, and educating themselves and others.
- Lyft is making Juneteenth a paid holiday now and in the future.
- The New York Times is giving employees the day off and giving a flex day off for employees who need to cover news that day.
Many of the above companies have also given money to racial justice-focused organizations, lifted up the voices of their Black employee resource groups, and committed to revising their internal policies and procedures to create a more inclusive workforce.
If you or your company are looking for other ideas of things you can do, consider:
- Digging into anti-racism resources as a team. Center your next team meeting around one of the films, books, articles, or chats on this list we've put together.
- Listening directly to Black people about their experiences. Join us for our chat with artist and activist Maryella Marie on the Black Experience, or listen to other interviews or news stories from these past few weeks featuring Black voices.
- Speaking up to HR and asking them to do more. As our former Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Dionna Smith, shared in a chat-and-learn, "If you ever had a fighting chance to have your company pay attention to Black issues and how it affects a company, it's now. Don't give up easily on this. There is no middle road on this, and you have more leverage than ever."
- Making a diversity scorecard for your organization. Dionna addresses what that should include—from special project distribution, leadership makeup, and attribution—in this video.
- Offer extended self-care options. Can you offer or expand therapy benefits? Racism is traumatic, and your Black employees or coworkers may need extra help right now.