Iris Mok calls herself an “advanced-age mother,” but that’s hardly the case. The assistant director of patents has pushed herself so hard throughout her career that she never even thought she’d have time to have a family. Through thirteen years doing cutting-edge patent work at Intel, mentoring, coaching, and acting as an angel investor for female entrepreneurs, and even finding the time to engage in pro bono work, Mok seems amazed to be the mother of a school-aged son. But she made it.
“He tests his limits every day, and it makes me appreciate the way I look at the world even more,” Mok says. “I’m always so excited to learn something new, and with him, I get that chance every day.”
The attorney has the kind of curious mind that makes it clear why she’s good at her job. To better learn the world of venture capital (VC) investment, she took on a rotation within Intel Capital, engaging in M&A work and getting a broader handle on the world of VC. “Life is just too short,” Mok explains. “If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask a question and get yourself involved in a way that will help you learn. If it’s something you want to do, find a way to do it.”
Her attitude is, at least in part, an inherited one. The youngest of five children, Mok grew up watching her parents operate a children’s clothing store in Hong Kong. Despite a relative lack of education, she saw them start a handful of businesses and learn on the fly how to make them work.
After coming to the US at sixteen as part of a student exchange program, Mok wanted to learn how people worked and lived somewhere outside of Hong Kong. She notes with a laugh that her adventurous spirit might have something to do with her zodiac sign, Sagittarius.
After attending several Women in Tech events, Mok began noticing a trend among the women who were pitching ideas and business plans. “It always seemed like women were always pitching to men,” she remembers. “With so much of VC funds going to men anyway, I thought there had to be a way to enable more women to get their ideas off the ground.”
Mok acted as a passive investor for multiple groups, and while it’s not her active role, she knows she’ll ultimately wind up back in the world helping support female entrepreneurs. Prior to becoming a mother, the lawyer was regularly sought out for speaking and coaching engagements, including being invited as a pitch coach at South by Southwest.
She has also found time to devote legal support to those who need it most. Mok’s continued dedication to pro bono work at Intel is especially impressive. “We have always had a prominent pro bono program at Intel, and I’ve had the opportunity to do a variety of work over the years,” she says. “It’s important to give back to your community in which you live in. This kind of work keeps you grounded and helps you realize how truly fortunate you are.”
That work has included immigration clinics, legal work on behalf of creative endeavors, record expungement, entrepreneurs, intellectual property clinics, evictions, and family cases. While motherhood shortened her pro bono docket, Mok says she’s excited to reengage now that her son has started school.
At Intel, Mok enjoys getting to be a lawyer that her clients aren’t dreading speaking to. “People aren’t coming to me with problems so much as ideas and plans,” she explains. “People seek me out for advice, and I get to help translate ideas into something real. I think that’s why I’ve been here so long. I really like what I do.”
That is the most steadfast advice Mok can provide lawyers trying to navigate their own careers: life is short, and there is no point in doing something that makes you unhappy. For Mok, that’s meant branching out, including an expat assignment in Germany early in her in-house career. Now, it’s achieving the necessary balance of motherhood and career.
That learning curve has been much more difficult, but what she has learned probably cannot be repeated enough for any working mother. “I don’t think any mother gives enough time to themselves,” Mok says. “They don’t concentrate on their own health and wellbeing, and it’s something I’ve certainly struggled with at times, too. But you have to find that time.”
The good news is that if the lawyer has managed to find a sliver of that time, it’s highly likely that anyone can. Her dance card was full before motherhood, and she’s still finding ways to keep her curious mind occupied. Life may be short, but Mok is making the most of it.