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Stephanie Addison Brown

Stephanie Addison Brown is Chief Executive Officer of the Shire of Augusta Margaret River. Originally from the UK, she left her job at London’s Lonely Planet to move to WA in 2004, kicking off her local government career in corporate and economic development roles at the City of Mandurah.

Initially on a six-month contract, she was still at the City seven years later. After an eight-year spell at the City of Bunbury as Director and Acting CEO, she became CEO at the Shire of Augusta Margaret River in 2019.

“It is an exciting time for women and the sector offers a multitude of opportunities,” Stephanie says.

“I am excited about the next generation of leaders coming through our industry with their contemporary approaches, global awareness and 21st century expectations.”

In the centenary year of the first woman elected to a WA council, Local Matters talks to Stephanie about women in leadership, diversity, and the opportunities and challenges of being Shire CEO.

What was it that attracted you to the role of CEO at Augusta Margaret River?

Although I wasn’t aspiring to be a CEO, after reading the advert and Shire’s Strategic Community Plan, I knew wanted the job.

The Shire lives by its values and is environmentally conscious; it is a privilege to lead an organisation with genuinely community focused guiding principles. I have been lucky to join an incredible team of passionate people who care about the Shire and want to make a difference.

What have been your key achievements as CEO at the Shire and what do you hope to achieve?

There were some large issues to address, including determining the governance model for the new Margaret River HEART facility and opening it to the public. The Margaret River Main Street Redevelopment Project is a huge undertaking, which we rescoped and retendered, and which will be complete in December.

One of my KPIs is to mainstream climate action through Shire operations in line with our targets to reduce carbon emissions, meaning a shift in mindset for all teams at the Shire. I have also established a Shire Facebook page, which has enabled us to tell our own stories in real time, reducing reliance on local journalists and enabling better connection with our community. This was especially valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic presented considerable challenges, with our region heavily reliant on tourism and hospitality, so I designed a Community Care Package for Council endorsement. This has enabled the Shire to provide immediate support to people struggling with the pandemic’s impact.

We will be adopting a place-based approach to planning over the next year. Every town from Augusta to Cowaramup, as well as our coastal and rural communities, will drive the planning for their area. We are working with our local Wadandi traditional owners to develop “Healthy Country Plans” which will assist us to understand the cultural and environmental values of certain areas of country within the Shire and enable us to manage these areas accordingly. This is a step beyond simply consulting with elders and means Wadandi culture and values will form part of key decisions moving forward.

What are the main challenges and opportunities of being a female leader in a local government?

Women seem to face more challenges, including feeling they are ready to apply for the job in the first place.

I have discussed this with women, many of whom say they cannot easily dedicate more time or move to another area as they are primary care giver for children or other family members. Moving to a new place can put some women off, especially if their partner has also established a career, children are settled in school and support networks are well established.

I hear many women talk about wanting a healthy work-life balance and they are put off applying for CEO or director roles with the extra demands these inevitably bring. I do see a shift in the sector however, and there are an increasing number of talented and motivated women applying for these roles. Women are also continuing their careers and building their skills concurrently with having children, which means they are not having to play catch up when the children are older.

How do we get more women into local government leadership roles?

Women need to be encouraged and supported and as CEO it is my job to open doors for my team. The industry would benefit from running campaigns highlighting the success of women working in these roles to humanise the life of a CEO. It isn’t glamorous and it is a lot of hard work, but it is extremely rewarding. It would be good to see local government finding ways to support women as they tackle these roles.

In my employment contract, there is a clause requiring me to let my Council know if I am feeling fatigued — right from the start this showed to me that they recognised the continual pressure that comes with the CEO role, that they care about my wellbeing and are prepared to help me manage these demands.

I would encourage women in our industry to connect to other women for peer support and mentoring through professional networks. LG Professionals are very proactive in this space.

It is important to note that diversity is not just about women. While strategies to attract more women into leadership positions are very important, we must also ensure we support the careers of a range of diverse people to ensure we have a balanced group of leaders who truly reflect our communities.

I would also like to see younger people encouraged to apply for these roles and not feel that they need to ‘wait their turn’.

Someone said to me the other day that if you are over 45 and don’t have a mentor that is under 30 then you are missing out on the fundamental shifts in thinking that are happening. I am 45 right now so I will be looking out for a younger mentor for 2021!

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Page reviewed 30 July 2019