Steve Speaks Out | City Eye

Stephanie Steve Shirley“I look at it purely in an humanitarian way. 10,000 unaccompanied children were welcomed in this country in 38/39. We are now talking about 3,000 unaccompanied children in a much wealthier Britain. I can’t understand how people can turn away from the humanitarian issue, of children, unaccompanied, milling around in Europe trying to find a safe place and I do relate to that.”

Speaking at the lecture for the Women of the Year Foundation held at the Royal Institution (RI) last month, Dame Stephanie Shirley spoke of her values. Humanitarian values.

Stephanie Shirley (later known as Steve) set up an all woman software company back in 1962 and became a billionaire philanthropist, who has never forgotten that she owed her life to the kinder transport, and the generosity of the country, which took her in. She told Sue McGregor who interviewed her, “Having had my life saved, I thought it was important not to fritter it away.”

The Jewish, Christian and Catholics sponsored the kinder children, and the Quakers, society of friends, rescued them when they ran out of funds.

When she floated her company on the London Stock Exchange, 70 staff members became millionaires. She’s very proud of that. She still holds those values, her role models being people like Anita Roddick, whose company produced products not tested on animals.

She was called the tech millionaire no one has heard of, yet she was way ahead of her time in setting up a company for women working from home. A chance paragraph in the Guardian, in the early days spoke of a woman who designed software between washing the nappies. This brought a flood of applications from women with talents in coding, who wanted to work for her.

She had tried hard to acquire a faith, having been sent to a private Catholic school to eradicate her Brummie accent. But just as she had recognised that maths research was not for her, so faith was not to be either.

Not your typical millionaire, she doesn’t want fast cars or a yacht. Her money goes on research and charities for Autism, since her son Giles was severely autistic. She opened Prior’s Court, which is a school that caters exclusively for autistic children and adults.

When she became an entrepreneur, she wanted to see how other women entrepreneurs ran their own technology companies. Sadly too often men ran them and it was all about the money. That was not for her.

The software designs were often quite banal, but also crucial. One was the design of the black box, for supersonic Concord: “I have to tell you it is not black, but bright yellow,” she said.

Sue asked what was her motivation in setting up a women only company. Was it feminist? She replied: “I think it was gender issues. I was so fed up with being patronised and classed as a second class citizen. I was still getting up against, not a glass ceiling, more of a concrete barrier. Over night I gave notice and started my own business.”

She founded a company that was women friendly for women who needed to work from home, because of dependents or disabilities. In 1962 she was way ahead of her time.


About the author

City Eye became interested in Overlooked and Overshadowed women, both in contemporary times and through out history. The former would include the women passed over for the Nobel in favour of their male colleagues. The later would be the wives of famous men, such as Mrs. Mandela. Her study of women written out of history, led her to interviews with interesting and inspirational women, (and some men). Extracts will be published in the articles. In no way is this men versus women, as to who is better. Simply that an overly macho, military, testosterone fueled environment, mainly men, needs the balancing attributes, often, though not exclusively, assigned to women: caring, conciliation, communication. Find out more: City Eye Blog ©christina

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