Dame Stephanie Shirley
Inspiring Professional Women
Dame Stephanie Shirley was rescued from Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport and came to live in England at the age of five. Despite the fact that maths was not taught at her girls’ high school, she was so determined to study it that she gained a special exemption to allow her to attend lessons at the boys’ school. She then worked for the Post Office building computers from scratch, and taking a maths degree at evening classes.
In 1962, she set up her own programming company, with a specific ambition to employ women, including those with dependents, so allowing flexible working, and discriminating against men, until it was outlawed by the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act! She also always signed herself ‘Steve’, to hide her identity in an entirely male-dominated industry. She retired in 1993 at the age of 60 and since then has focussed on her philanthropy, giving away most of her wealth.
When asked why she had given away so much money, she said, “I do it because of my personal history; I need to justify the fact that my life was saved.”
At a time when such a tiny proportion of women were authors, Jane Austen stands out from her modest background just for having the ambition to publish and be different to the young ladies of her acquaintance and, indeed, her own heroines.
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