Dame Stephanie Shirley CH | IT Entrepreneur & Philanthropist

Dame Stephanie Shirley 1
Image credit: Robert Taylor

Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley CH, age 86, is a workplace revolutionary and successful IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist.

Her life story begins with her 1939 arrival in Britain as an unaccompanied Kindertransport refugee.   In 1962, she founded an all-woman software company, Freelance Programmers, that pioneered new work practices and changed the position of professional women, especially in hi-tech.   It was ultimately valued at $3 billion and made 70 of her staff into millionaires at no cost to anyone, but herself.

Since retiring in 1993, her focus has been on philanthropy based on her strong belief in giving back to society.  In 2009/10 she served as the UK’s first ever national Ambassador for Philanthropy.   Her charitable Shirley Foundation has initiated and funded a number of projects that are pioneering by nature and strategic in impact, totally £67m to date.  The focus is on IT and her late son’s disorder of autism.

Her memoir Let It Go was published in 2012.  It has sold 40,000 copies and Penguin re-published in April 2019 with a view to distributing it worldwide – the first translated version is launch in Germany in July 2020.   A big screen film is also in the making by The Artists Partnership, with Producer Damian Jones and Director Haifaa al-Mansour.  The shortlist for an actress to play Dame Stephanie includes Claire Foy and Emily Blunt.  Filming should start in the next two years.

Dame Stephanie has been much honoured.  In 2013, she was named by Woman’s Hour as one of the 100 most powerful women in Britain.  In 2014, the Science Council listed her as one of the Top 100 practising scientists in the UK.  In 2015, Dame Stephanie was given the Women of the Year Special Award.  Her TED Talk in 2015 was to a standing ovation from more than a thousand of the world’s most recognised technical entrepreneurs, thinkers, creators and doers. It has received over 2m views.   In 2017, Dame Stephanie received a Companion of Honour, one of only 65 people worldwide to receive such a recognition.

Twitter: @DameStephanie_