Dr Maggie Haertsch, (PhD) recently sat down with her friend and colleague Cynthia Payne to chat about her career, how she went from personal care worker to CEO and how she helps guide other women who are making an impact in the aged care industry. Here is what she learned.

Although women account for more than 80% of direct care roles in the aged care sector, senior management and executive roles are still dominated by men. Cynthia Payne is helping to redress that balance. At 51, after three decades of dedication to the care of older Australians, she is currently Managing Director of Anchor Excellence, a national bespoke aged care executive and management consulting firm.

Cynthia has always been tenacious yet compassionate. With a high EQ, she is recognised as an exemplary leader, a trailblazer, strategic thinker and generous mentor to both women and men. “Cynthia instils a belief that I can achieve anything I put my mind to,” reports a female mentee who has benefited from her support.

Cynthia explained further: “I want to help women to get a seat at the board table, but then they have to own that seat. Creating an impact in your own right requires skill, and the ability to influence and shape thinking.” Continual education is a great way to make sure you own the job.

Starting her career as a personal care worker she went on to qualify as a registered nurse. Early on Cynthia decided that executive roles were where she could effect the greatest change. Having made her decision, her career trajectory was fast. Grounding in the practical knowhow of direct care instilled in her the passion and determination that saw her working as a Deputy Director of Nursing in her early 20’s before moving into more senior roles. At 31 she was the head of operations for a large not for profit provider whose aged care division employed over 2000 staff. At 33 she was appointed CEO of a for-profit residential aged care organisation that she led for 15 years. In 2000 Cynthia graduated with an MBA, providing the business knowledge to complement her technical knowledge as a nurse. She then founded Anchor Excellence in 2018.

Cynthia believes we make conscious decisions as leaders about who we want to be and the kind of legacy we want to leave. She explained: “I remember my mum coming home one day, she was working in manufacturing on a process line saying that she hoped that if I was ever in a position of responsibility like a manager that I would never speak to anyone in the way that her mother got spoken to regularly.”

She says her strong work ethic comes from her mother, who gave birth to Cynthia in a home for unmarried mothers. “The nuns said I would amount to nothing, because a child needed both a mother and a father. But my mum was a very strong advocate that women can do anything and fought to keep me against societal pressure.”

As the mother of four children, Cynthia acknowledges the benefit of having a life partner who was a stay-at-home dad when her family was young, and admits it hasn’t always been easy to navigate family and work life.

Living and breathing the mantra ‘leaders enabling leaders’, Cynthia says she is “in awe of the fact that someone trusted me enough to give me broader responsibilities,” she says. Whenever I have had the opportunity in my career I have done the same for others.” Her key message about leadership is to “take every opportunity to step up to the plate. If you see a need, take the risk, do the right thing and go for it.”


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