Ann Miura-Ko ’98 is essentially a modern-day “Wonder Woman.” She is the newest member of the Yale Corporation, a Silicon Valley pioneer investor, a co-founding partner at Floodgate (a seed-stage venture capital firm), a wife, and a mother of three children.
YaleWomen Council member, Rose Jia ’07, spoke with Ann about being a woman at Yale and in her career; how she got to be a “Wonder Woman”; and her advice to women everywhere.
Ann grew up in Palo Alto, California, surrounded by technology. And yet, she never imagined she would end up in a world that would eventually fund the next generation of tech companies like Twitter, Twitch, Refinery29, and Okta. Her passion at the time lay with music, especially piano. When she chose to attend college, she decided on Yale because she knew she would be at an institution that would allow her to pursue her musical interests while getting a strong education.
At Yale, Ann’s interest in music opened a door to finding a sisterhood outside of her main course of study — electrical engineering — a major without many female students. She quickly found herself singing with Proof of the Pudding (an acapella group on campus), where she met an “incredibly dynamic group of diverse interests and backgrounds brought together by a common love for singing.” These women went on to become some of her closest friends and the women she most admired.
When Ann first began her career, she could not imagine she would one day be a repeat member of the Forbes Midas List and The New York Times Top 20 Venture Capitalists Worldwide. At that point in time, there just weren’t that many women in the field she could have looked up to. In almost every industry she was a part of — from electrical engineering at Yale to consulting to investing to getting her PhD at Stanford in mathematical modeling of computer security — women were far and few between. When she first approached the investing world, she asked one partner, “Do you know any female general partners in venture capital?” Their response: none on the East Coast and only a handful on the West Coast. In a February 2018 CNBC interview, Ann remarked: “There isn’t a multitude of people where you could just point to that person and say, ‘That’s the person I am going to be in 10, 20, 30 years.’ And I think that’s what’s tough.” Even today, women hold only 10 percent of all senior positions in private equity and venture capital firms globally (according to IFC paper).
Despite all these challenges, Ann made her way to the top. She didn’t see her future through gender-biased glasses; instead, she cared about being different. “It’s important to be different, not just better,” she emphasized. “Different is memorable, and different sticks.” She credited her technical PhD in venture capital as what differentiated her from her peers. “Being a woman can be different, but I don’t see it as a disadvantage or an advantage.” In venture capital, her successes were based on what companies she invested in and how well those companies performed. Being a woman didn’t change those factors. However, it did allow her to see and invest in companies that might have gone unnoticed and tap into new investment opportunities with female-led companies.
Ann has made it, but it wasn’t without some pitfalls. For women early in their careers, she has these words of wisdom:
Be self aware and train yourself to have a stronger and more professional presence.
“Earlier in my career, I was told I sounded really young,” Ann explained. “I remember replying, ‘Well, I’m 21, that’ll solve itself.’ My manager was a serious woman and said, ‘I’m not kidding. You need to listen.’ And so, she stuck me in a theater program, where we had to record voicemails and listen to the recordings. I was mortified when I heard my voice. I sounded like a 10-year-old. The theater director said, ‘Now, imagine if you were the CEO of a company and you got this voicemail. What do you think your reputation would be afterwards?’” After that, Ann modified her tone and ensured she presented herself professionally each time. According to Ann, “Presence is not just about how you are in person, but it’s also about what you represent. So listen to your voice, hear your speech patterns, watch your body language, and be aware of how you come off in all aspects of communication.”
Use the tool of interruption.
Ann encourages women to interrupt to get their points across. “Notice when others are interrupting and how effective they are in getting their points across,” she says. “As women, we’re told not to interrupt, but in many meetings, there are people who continue to speak and make their points many, many times. If you notice, it’s usually a guy who interrupts. It’s okay for us to interrupt so we can make our points. If interrupting still makes you uncomfortable, try saying something in the first ten minutes of a meeting (before things feel more intimidating) and prepare all the smart things you want to bring up in the meeting because you’ll feel more prepared and confident when speaking up.”
Remember that people say a lot of stupid things and most people don’t notice.
Ann emphasized how the consequence of saying something stupid is not as large as we think it is, so it’s oftentimes about getting over the hurdle of speaking up. And, we, as women, must learn to speak up.
After her formative years at McKinsey, then Charles River Ventures, and then the PhD program at Stanford, Ann became a co-founding partner at Floodgate, where she leads and mentors many people. When pressed on her leadership style and how other female leaders could emulate her, Ann responded: “There is no cookie-cutter style. You need to figure out your own personal style. Be the leader you wish you had when you were younger. Women have to make it up. [...] So, be the change that you want to see.” But most importantly, she noted, “be visible in the choices you’re making.” She gave an example of a leader being visible in her decision-making: Ann had been a PhD student attending a talk by a female academic. In the talk, she noticed the academic had brought her baby, who was in an infant car seat, and she was rocking the seat with one foot while giving her talk in front of everyone. For Ann, it was inspirational to see, especially since she had been debating whether to have a child during her PhD program. Later on, when Ann had her own children, she decided to bring one of them to a conference she had to attend. Many years later, the chief marketing officer of one of the companies she had backed told Ann how she had debated whether to bring her own child to a conference when she remembered Ann doing just that. As a result, this CMO brought her child to the conference. “I just love that lineage of: I saw it once and decided to do it myself, and then she saw it and did it as well,” Ann said fondly. “I told her by her doing that, she probably inspired another woman to do the same.”
Near the end of our conversation, we had to bring up the topic most women love and hate simultaneously: work/life balance. Is it doable or just a myth? Here was a woman who has differentiated herself in her career and has a loving husband, three adoring kids, and one spoiled pet. Could work/life balance be real? The answer: not really. “You have to decide what you’re willing to give up and what you won’t,” she advised. “Trade-offs are really hard because work can creep into every element of your life.” She personally dealt with work/life balance by having a strong support system, specifically, a strong partnership with her husband and having her parents close by. “It really does take a village,” she noted with a laugh.
Still wondering what this Wonder Woman Ann Miura-Ko is like? Here are some answers to a series of rapid-fire questions:
- Favorite food: Japanese comfort food (ramen, tonkatsu, tempura), basically everything mom makes
- Currently reading: Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
- Currently listening to: Whatever the kids want, which is usually bad pop music
- Currently watching: A Handmaid’s Tale
- Last internet search: Map of Barcelona
- Personal mantra: “Greatness is a decision”
— Rose Jia ’07