I was fortunate to be invited to an event hosted by EY ‘Issues On My Mind’ with Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley CH. I found the event incredibly inspirational of how much she has accomplished from setting up her own software company called Freelance Programmers right through to her philanthropic efforts to help others.
There are two key aspects of her life which particularly stood out for me; as a woman in technology, I was drawn to Dame Shirley’s experiences of being a pioneering technologist in the 1950s. How much has the experience for a woman changed over the years to the present day? This is a very pertinent topic in the news – not only for women in IT but extending to women in STEM subjects. The other aspect of Dame Shirley’s life was her philanthropic endeavours particularly in The Shirley Foundation, which is an umbrella for three different charities:
If I was to delve a little deeper into Dame Shirley’s experience of a woman in technology in the 1950s, I am pleased to say that it is different to the present day. Whilst there are still outstanding discussions around diversity within the workplace, fortunately women have not felt the need to write letters to clients under a male pseudonym; this is how Steve Shirley was born. Steve received a much better reply rate on the letters than Stephanie acheived. He was part of Dame Shirley’s company, Freelance Programmers, that she set up in 1962. This company was profound during this period as out of the first 300 employers, only 3 employees were men! The aim was to give flexible working to women, especially those with children, by providing the ability to work from home. Dame Shirley included humour in her presentation by mentioning that her actions soon became against the law and was told that she had to employ more men. The problem she soon quickly discovered was that men were applying to work in the company for the wrong reasons!
I found it particularly interesting that she called herself an ‘honorary male’. Having done a quick survey at the event, most women describe themselves as being the ‘token female’ on an male dominated team. Perhaps this is the way women are made to feel so companies can ‘acheive’ equal diversity on teams?
Since Dame Shirley’s ‘retirement’ in 1993, she has focused her efforts on Philanthropy which is another passion of mine. I don’t believe in altruism, as for me, the definition of altruism is a ‘selfless act’. I strongly do not believe that it is possible to perform a completely selfless act as one always gets a sense of satisfaction when helping others. However, this should not detract from the incredible and impressive time and effort (not to mention the staggering £67 million of personal wealth!) that Dame Shirley has dedicated to helping others. I am in awe and I would love to be in a position to make such an impact.
I am very much looking forward to reading my signed copy of ‘Let It Go’ for a deeper insight into the extraordinary story of the life of Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley CH.