Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley who lives in Henley was made a member of Order of the Companions of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list at the weekend.
Dame Shirley has already been awarded an OBE in 1980 for services to industry and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2000 for services to the IT industry.
The Companion of Honour is a special award granted to those who have made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time. The members, of which there are 65 at any one time, currently include actress Dame Maggie Smith, Lord Coe, Stephen Hawking, John Major and Desmond Tutu.
Dame Shirley was an unaccompanied child refugee from Nazi Europe in 1939 and became a leading and highly innovative figure in the IT industry. She started her original business Freelance Programmers in 1962 which later became FI, then Xansa and this has since been acquired by Steria and now part of the Sopra Steria Group. Early in her career she found it advantageous to go by the name “Steve” in a male-dominated business world and she employed only women until the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to do so.
During her career, Dame Shirley has served as an independent non-executive director for Tandem Computers Inc., The Atomic Energy Authority (later AEA Technology) and The John Lewis Partnership.
In 1993, at the age of 60 Dame Shirley concentrated on philanthropic work. Since then she has given away at least £65 million of the estimated £150 million wealth she built after selling her IT firm. She has also set up The Shirley Foundation whose current mission is facilitation and support of pioneering projects with strategic impact in the field of autism spectrum disorders with particular emphasis on medical research, a cause she was drawn to through her late son Giles who had autism.