Digital Heroines: Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley

Child refugee, philanthropist and women’s digital pioneer

I can think of few better ways of kicking off Brighton Digital Womens first blog post than sharing the story of Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley.

Stephanie has an exceptionally interesting story starting with her fleeing Nazi Europe at the age of 5 for the UK. In her memoirs she explains this was a moment in time when she decided to make her life ‘…a life worth saving. And then I just got on with it.”

And she bloody did! In 1962 at the tender age of 29 and with only 6 quid she set up her software company, ‘Freelance Programmers’ from the kitchen table. By 2000 the company was worth £1.2 billion. But that isn’t the end of how incredible this dame is, she’s also a philanthropist.

She set up The Shirley Foundation in 1986, it’s mission being the “facilitation and support of pioneering projects with strategic impact in the field of autism spectrum disorders with particular emphasis on medical research.” The cause is extremely close to her heart as her son was autistic and sadly passed away at the age of 35. You can watch a lecture about her philanthropy here.

What a woman!

Watch her give an incredibly inspiring TED talk, ‘Why do ambitious women have flat heads?’ and I defy you not to get serious tremors of ambition! (Also, check out that shirt, #style am I right?!)


Discover more:

‘Success has a cost. Women today are so naïve’

‘I’ve done what I had it in me to do’

Steve Shirleys Website


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I’m the founder of Brighton Digital Women and love being able to develop my knowledge by collaborating with other digital Brightonians. I’m a rare born and bred Brightonian and will NEVER leave!

I love to be an active part of Brightons wonderful culture, in particular The Great Escape, Brighton Digital Festival and enjoying a flat white in The Laines whilst listening to the melodic stylings of the birdy whistle man.


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