Dame Steve Shirley – a lifetime of using technology for good

Finalist category: Tech4Good Special Award

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Tech4Good Special Award, Winner, 2013

Arriving as a refugee from Nazi Germany at the start of the Second World War Dame Stephanie Shirley’s early hardship was a spur to an amazingly successful career in IT.

Having worked in the computer industry for several years it was in the late 1950s that Dame Stephanie found herself pushing up against a glass ceiling, restricted by arbitrary limits and stereotypes. So she made the brave decision to go it alone and in 1962 launched software company, Freelance Programmers, with just £6 capital and a gut feeling that the programming industry was going to be huge.

Over the next 25 years Dame Stephanie developed the company, now called Xansa, into a FTSE 250 leading technology group. She did all this whilst leading the way in terms of flexible working practices and equal work rights for women.

When at one point the business leads were drying up and she found herself frustrated by the glass ceiling once again, Dame Stephanie made the dramatic move of adopting the name “Steve” in an effort to progress in the male dominated business world. It worked and to this day she is known to many still as Steve Shirley.

Since retiring in 1993, her focus has been increasingly on philanthropy, based on her strong belief in business people giving something back to society and the empowering nature of technology.

Dame Stephanie has set up one of the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK, the Shirley Foundation, which has donated £60 million over the last seven years. Her main interests are autism and making better use of IT in the voluntary sector and her Foundation has initiated and funded a number of projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms.

She became a Dame at the turn of the millennium and is also Past President of the British Computer Society and Past Master of the IT livery company – as well as its major sponsor.

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AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards are organised by AbilityNet and BT and supported by a range of sponsors and partners.