Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Role Models

Stephanie Shirley

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Dame Stephanie Shirley, DBE

Awards: IET Mountbatten Medal 1999; FREng, FBCS, B.Sc, CEng


In 1962, Shirley founded the software company FI Group (later Xansa plc acquired by Steria in 2007). She was concerned with creating work opportunities for women with dependants, and employed only women until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made that illegal. She adopted the name "Steve" to help her in the male-dominated business world. She officially retired at the age of 60 in 1993 and has taken up philanthropy since then.

Shirley was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1980 Queen's Birthday Honours, and promoted Dame Commander (DBE) in the Millennium Honours,.

In 1985 she was awarded a Recognition of Information Technology Award and in 1987 the Freedom of the City of London. She was President of the British Computer Society from 1989 to 1990 In 1999 she received the Mountbatten Medal, which is awarded annually for an outstanding contribution, or contributions over a period, to the promotion of electronics or information technology and their application.

In 1992-2000 she served as a non-executive director of the Atomic Energy Authority (privatised to become AEA Technology) and also of Tandem Computers Inc. in the States.

Post retirement she has donated much of her £150m wealth (from the internal sale to the company staff and later the flotation of FI Group) to charity. Beneficiaries, through the Shirley Foundation, include the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the Oxford University. Her late son Giles (1963–1998) was autistic and she has instigated and funded over £50m in this field, including the autism charities Autism Cymru, Kingwood, Prior’s Court and Autistica.

In 2003 Shirley received the Beacon Fellowship Prize for her contribution to countering autism and for her pioneering work in harnessing information technology for the public good. Gold Medalist of the Institute of Management, she has received several Lifetime Achievement Awards, including that of the British Computer Society.  She is also named Advocate of the year 2013 by the International Society for Autism Research.

She served as the UK's Ambassador for Philanthropy in 2009/10, a government appointment that she aimed “to give philanthropists a voice”. One result was the social business AmbassadorsforPhilanthropy.com.

Dame Stephanie Shirley has been awarded 24 British honorary Fellowships and doctorates. Her memoir Let IT Go was published in October 2012.

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