Anna Vainer knows what makes her remarkable
Even as a teenager, Anna Vainer knew what she wanted. “I remember, at 14, telling my sister ‘I’m going to be working in marketing,’” she says, smiling. “I don’t know how I knew that.” She was right: Anna is the head of B2B Growth Marketing for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and runs the regional team for Think with Google, a destination for marketing trends and insights. Anna says she’s truly driven by working with people, and it’s her other role as the co-founder of #IamRemarkable where she truly gets to flex this skill.
#IamRemarkable is an initiative that empowers women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. The goal is to challenge the social perception that surrounds self promotion, an issue that not only affects individuals, but also hinders progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.
#IamRemarkable also has a workshop component, which to date has reached more than 100,000 participants in more than 100 countries with the help of 5,000 facilitators; many participants credit the workshop with helping them make real, positive career and personal growth.
The idea for #IamRemarkable came to Anna during a training that asked women to write down and read lists of their accomplishments. She was shocked by her own reaction. “I remember sitting there, looking at the women reading their achievements and I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, why do they brag? Why do they have to show off?’” she says. “And then it started to hit me that there was something wrong with this feeling. They were asked to stand in front of the room and talk about their achievements; that was the exercise.” Today, Anna helps others learn to acknowledge and announce what makes them great—while also making sure to practice what she preaches.
What was your career path to Google?
At university, I studied economics and management and then I kind of rolled into doing an internship at a pharmaceutical company working as an economist. I told myself, “you know what, I studied economics, let’s see what it means to be an actual economist,” but soon enough I realized this was not going to be my preferable field of professional engagement. Shortly after that, I applied for an internship at Google and got it, and that was it. I’ve been at Google for nearly 10 years.
In a parallel universe, what’s a different career you would have pursued?
I would love to run a boutique hotel in the countryside of Israel, where I grew up. I think about my grandparent's summer house in Minsk, Belarus and the amazing summers we spent as a family in the countryside every summer until we moved to Israel. And running a hotel means I could create this experience for travellers from all over the world in one place.
How did #IamRemarkable first get started?
After that training where I felt like the women reading their achievements out loud were bragging, I talked to a colleague of mine, Anna Zapesochini, who had the same feeling when she took the course. She told me we should make a video about the process people go through during this exercise. I went to my previous manager, Riki Drori, and said, “I need to make this video, we have a really great idea to help women overcome their confidence gaps and their modesty gaps.” She said, “I’m going to give you the budget for the video, but if this is as important as you say it is, how are you actually going to bring it to every woman on the planet?” That question led to so many ideas. Soon after that conversation, Anna [Zapesochini] and I, with a ton of support from my managers Janusz Moneta and Yonca Dervişoğlu, founded the #IamRemarkable initiative, at the heart of which lies a 90-minute workshop aimed at empowering women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements and break modesty norms and glass ceilings.
What’s your favorite part of the workshop?
After we ask people to fill out a whole page with statements about what makes them remarkable, we ask them to read it out loud. And the moment you ask them to read it out loud you hear “hhhuuuuhhh!”—like the air is sucked out of the room. That’s definitely my favorite part.
Have any of them in particular really stuck with you?
One of the most memorable ones was in the past year at Web Summit in Lisbon. It was my first week back from maternity leave and we ran a workshop for 250 people. The room was packed, people were sitting on the floor. After we asked people to read their lists of what makes them remarkable in their small groups, we invited 10 brave people to stand on stage and read one of their statements out loud, and everybody wept. It was such a high level of intimacy for such a large room, I was astonished.
My baby and husband were actually at that workshop, which was so great. It made me think of the future generation and how I want the workplace to be for my daughter, and I think we’ve made really good steps in the past couple of years. #IamRemarkable is creating really great tools for people.
Without putting you on the spot, what are some things that make you remarkable?
Professionally, there are a few achievements I’m proud of. The first is that I created #IamRemarkable; another is that I started a campaign similar to Black Friday in Israel to drive e-commerce in the country. And personally, I’m remarkable because I was part of the Israeli national synchronized swimming team. You won’t see me in the pool with a nose clip now, but I did that for seven years.
What’s one piece of advice you have for women who struggle with self-promotion?
The piece of homework we give to people after the workshop is write down your three top achievements from the past month or past period, and practice saying them in front of the mirror. Then practice saying them to a friend or colleague who you trust. Then, put down time down with your manager to go through that list.
With today’s overload of data—whether it’s email, ads, whatever—you can’t assume people see and understand what you’ve worked on. The ability to talk about your personal contribution is critical, and many times, women specifically use team-based language; “we” as opposed to “I.” Learning to use self-promoting language is important as well. Practice, practice, practice. It’s like flexing a muscle; it’s going to feel awkward the first time, and even maybe the third time—but the tenth time, it will feel natural.
Was there a time in your life when you could have benefit from these skills?
To be honest, to this day I still have those moments where I need to practice those skills. I don’t think it’s that you just learn it and then you’re amazing at it. But it definitely would have benefit me earlier in my career, and during school as well. It’s really important to learn from a young age to talk about achievements in an objective way. You see this in the workshop, where people look at their full page and see their lives unfold, all of their achievements on the page, and suddenly it fills them up with so much pride; it gives you this sense of ability and confidence that you can achieve anything. The original video we made with that scrappy budget ends with a woman saying, “I wonder what else I can do.” I think that’s a pretty important feeling to have at any stage of your life.