As the Global Human Resources Director of Afterpay Limited, Shanyn Payne is responsible for leading a team of talented HR professionals to create and implement all people related strategies across Australia, China, the U.S, Canada, and the UK. Prior to working at Afterpay, Shanyn was a member of the start-up Executive team at Online Education Services, where she created and scaled all HR strategies throughout fast growth (BRW's fastest growing business 2014) to achieve and maintain Aon Hewitt Best Employer accreditation in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2017 OES was not only accredited for a fourth time, but were also named "Best of the Best".
Shanyn holds a Bachelor of Behavioral Science degree from LaTrobe University, a Graduate Diploma of Human Resources from Deakin University, and a Masters of Business Administration from Deakin University.
I was born in Lilydale, which is outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne near that 40K out of the CBD. Pretty standing childhood. I had my mom and dad, my sister and myself. A dad who had a white-collar job, a mom who kind of stayed at home. We did a bit of a sting out in Warburton, even further out the country for a period of time. But, yeah, outer eastern suburbs girl. End of the train line. My mom grew up in a poultry farm in Wonga Park. She was the daughter of Polish immigrants who migrated to Australia just after the war. Dad was a Ten Pound Pom. He came out on a boat to Australia when he was eight years old. So both kind of had – I get caught up in a bit of a ‘Pitza’, a good combination of Polish, English. But both parents pretty much raised in Australia.
Dad was I guess a clerk. He just worked in various white-collar jobs, mostly clerical. He did a lot of occupational health and safety in his early career. Then the last kind of 20 years, he actually worked as a work cover investigator, so not the type of person that takes photos, trying to catch up people who are doing dodgy claims. More just going in and pulling together reports around work cover.
Mom was a housewife for most of my childhood and used to kind of earn a bit of money on the side, cleaning house, etc. the last kind of 15 years until she retired this year as a resident care worker mostly looking after clients with intellectual disability.
At school, I was a bit of a misfit. I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I wasn’t popular. I got peeked on a little bit and then I discovered that I was really pretty good at running. I used to call it the lap around the oval, but it was 400 meters and also basketball. I had a teacher who very influential for me and really coached me to quite a high standard in both of those sports. Where I discovered more people I had things in common with. I discovered some self confidence and I also discovered I was pretty darn competitive. I certainly wasn't always the most talented athlete but I certainly worked the hardest. So it definitely instilled in me a really good work ethic, and I was always the hardest trainer, always.
I actually wanted to be a sports teacher because of that. So in year 12, that’s what I was kind of aiming for, get into a teaching degree. But then I actually got a much higher mark than I thought I was going to get in year 12. I said, “Oh, I’m going to – I might as well switch degrees and get into something with this high score I’ve got,” and on the spot decided I wanted to be a sports psychologist, and so enrolled in the behavioral science degree at La Trobe. Luckily, probably right about second year of university, I was really loving this industrial and organizational psychology component, which got me interested in HR. So I was one of those lucky people that by second year uni, I was actually pretty sure what it was that I wanted to do. So from the age of 19, I knew I wanted to have a career in human resources. I applied for about, I reckon, 60 graduate roles in HR when I finished uni and got rejected from every single one of them. Back in those days, you got rejection via the posts usually, and I remember just getting sick of getting letters that had no. I remember it being pretty devastating and I was actually working at a supermarket as a checkout operator. That I had worked there throughout high school and university, and then I had a store manager who suggested that I go into their management development program.
That’s what I did. I said, “Well, it’s a full-time job, and learning how to manage will probably help me become a better HR practitioner, get my foot in the door.” It’s pretty major supermarket on big major chains. And, yeah, I was – again, I had a really great mentor. She was the HR manager Ginene Duggan at the time and she actually entered me into HR. I think I had been involved in some young Ray Tyler of the year top of competition that I used to run, and she noticed it pretty early on, and she put me forward to get scholarships to a postgraduate degree. It was pretty rare that someone of my kind of junior level that got accepted into those scholarship programs. But I got accepted and was able to get my postgrad deployment in HR. That actually stopped me going overseas. I was going to go and do the traditional gap year overseas, but getting that scholarship kept me here. Again, definitely getting that postgrad education in HR set me on the right path.
I got my HR role in head office of that supermarket, so it was a recruitment role, a recruiting role of various roles in supermarkets and was there for three years, doing that HR role. If I think about some of those really early challenges, you learn to work really hard in supermarkets. I was managing 70 checkout employees when I was 22 years old. So you learn pretty quickly how to deal with people.
I was also sexually harassed really early on in my career as well. It’s pretty horrible, and I remember at the time I mentioned it to my female boss who pretty much told me not to make any trouble and not to make any ways, and so I never told anyone and never reported it to anyone, which I think is why these days I’m very mindful of the underreporting that goes on and, yeah, it’s a passionate mind to make sure that these things don’t go unnoticed because it had a pretty big effect on me for a lot of my early years.
So from there, I think after being in retail for a period of time, I wanted to get a real office job. My first general was probably Computershare, and the people I met there at Computershare I count as my closest friends today and really, again, set me on that path, that generalist career. And it was a great environment completely. It was a really good culture and it’s got a good grounding. I went in as a HR officer and which turned out to be HR consultant for mostly the call center and data entry areas. Then when I wanted to become a manager, I thought I’d get back into retail. So retail, I miss the pace of it but also that’s because where I’m growing up. I feel like that’s where I was going to get my first management role. I went back in with the pharmaceutical industries, Priceline, and then led our own Pulse Pharmacy and became a state HR manager and then a national HR manager.
Then I got my second big break of my career, which was getting a role at SEEK, and that was the first time that networking had played a really important role in getting that job. Very early on keeping in contact with her until that right role at SEEK eventually came up. Then, of course, only a year into being at SEEK, Swinburne University joint venture started, and they created Online Education Services. So I was able to be a part of the startup team for that and then grow with that business as my first executive role.
It certainly helped having a fantastic CEO, Denice Pitt, who absolutely believe that people was what make good business. And we regularly did checks on the culture. After two years of being in operation, we’ve grown substantially. I think that year, we’d won BRW’s fastest-growing company. As an executive team, we stood back and looked at what part to that side of culture did we want to keep and really keep dear to us because it was really important to us as we grew. Then what parts did we have to leave behind us because it just weren’t possible in a faster-growing and larger business anymore. So we did constant evaluations of that. Even more importantly, we listened to our people. So we do really regular engagements surveys. Lots of focus groups, and asking our employees what was important to them to maintain that culture.
So I might have five great ideas before breakfast, but that doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, it was always the employees. They will tell you what is important to them and gain most of all quick wins. Mostly, it was around being really open, honest, and transparent with employees and really creating that trust culture. We did a lot of work about recruiting for diversity and diversity not just demographics but diversity of thought. So we very much believed that true innovation came from people who thought differently. When you do that, you then need to create an environment that’s inclusive, where those people are heard because we did a lot of work around teambuilding, how to give and receive feedback, how to understand and work with people who might think a little bit differently to you. It was those kind of foundations that ended up leading us to be named the best employer by Aon Hewitt but also just being such a fantastic place to go to work each day.
I just talked about some of the more positive experiences I had around diversity inclusion. Unfortunately, there have been some negative stories as well, and I totally acknowledge that I’m a privileged white cisgender straight woman. But being a woman, especially in some executive teams that are more male-dominated has been difficult, and I have experienced on several occasions just not being heard and really explicitly not being heard. I'm talking about, giving you an example, no one really taking much notice of it. Then five minutes later, another male executive saying that same thing that everyone else started talking about and listening to.
I’ve heard this phenomenon happening before but to actually have it happen to me on several occasions has been really eye-opening, and I’m a raving extrovert. It’s not like I’m a shy or tiring person either. That’s quite confronting and initially thinking, “It’s okay. I’ll let my work speak for itself,” to now being more mature. I think when you get older, you tend to lose your fear a little bit. Now, I absolutely call it out if it happens. But unfortunately, it still does happen in this environment. Definitely an improvement. I do think that it is being called out more with people. I definitely feel more comfortable now than 20 years ago when I first started my career about calling out things like anything discriminatory, with people are being harassed. I still there’s a massive number that do get underreported. But I think that some of those really strong, like the MeToo Movement that people feel more comfortable coming forward than 20 years ago, so that’s good.
I still think we’ve got a really long way to go. I still think I want to see things like produce and more meaningful diversity targets, things put in place to hold companies to account. And so much of this is unconscious. I think so many people that I’ve worked with definitely aren’t consciously biased if you with unconscious bias. There’s a lot more education required to get us where we need to be.
I would say trust your instincts, back yourself, and what makes the difference is actually what makes you unique and successful. So I often say you do you, rather than trying to conform to this kind of concocted ideal of what we think we should be. I think it’s very embracing. Embracing your uniqueness is what I would tell myself.
Networking everything. I’ve really made sure I dedicated the time to do that and networking with the right people. Not just HR professionals but people outside of HR as well who might be bringing a different idea to the table. So I’m part of a couple of really great networking groups. There is actually an HR tribe that exists in WhatsApp that I’m a big part of that. Keeps me kind of across the latest legislation, what’s happening in that world. Definitely, Afterpay having a large presence in San Francisco has been brilliant in exposing me just to people over there and some of the really cutting edge practices that some of those businesses are doing. So I think the US and certainly some of the Silicon Valley businesses, they are a step ahead in some regards but they’ve also made some really bad mistakes. We’re such in a diversity pace, so I think that we can learn from here. I’m just a really naturally curious person, so I’m always looking at who’s doing the latest and greatest thing and seeing what we can learn off them.
I do a two-hour beach walk every single Sunday, even if it’s pelting down with rain. You just go to make sure you got the right clothing to wear. That two hour walk, I don’t take a phone or anything with me. For me, that really is processing the week’s that’s been, thinking about the week ahead. In the last hour, that walk is very mindful. So I do things like I count the different shades of green I can see or really listening to the sounds of the environment around me that really just centers me and brings me back into my body.
For me, I found that acupuncture is a must. It’s something that I need to kind of do on a regular basis. The same thing, it just really balances me and really feel it if I ever miss one of my scheduled appointments. I think lastly, for me, having my two French bulldogs, which have become quite famous in this current Zoom environment. I think everyone in my business have met my two Frenchies. I think pits are also incredibly great with just that unconditional love and how the ground you.
I’m a big Brene Brown fan, and my favorite quote of hers is that, “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and my struggles.” What I love about that is it really reminds me on who it is important to listen to. Feedback is incredibly important for all of us, but not all of that feedback is valid. So I really am quite choosy on who I listen to and really take on board feedback from. They are people that need to know and love me for the things that I do really well and the things that I struggle with.
The book is First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson. The title of the book actually comes from a Japanese proverb, which is before you kill the beast, you have to acknowledge its beauty. And there’s many things throughout the book, and it’s definitely around – There is struggle with her anxiety. What I loved about it was the acknowledgment that that anxiety actually made her extremely successful in having to manage the bad parts out of it.
So it’s the same here. I think we’re all too – It’s all too easy to always be looking at your flaws and how you can improve. This is about actually recognizing that some of those things like around tend to be on the anxious side and ruminate is actually what has made me really successful. But you do have to put in strategies to make sure that there’s coping mechanisms place that are the shadow side of some of those things.
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