Dame Stephanie Shirley smiling in headshot

Doctor of Engineering

A workplace revolutionary with an unrelenting energy for creating positive change.

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a successful IT entrepreneur and an ardent venture philanthropist.

She arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939 and, in 1962, with just £6, founded an all-woman software company that pioneered remote working and redefined the expectations and opportunities for working women. Her company, Freelance Programmers, grew to 8,500 employees and was ultimately valued at almost $3 billion, making 70 of her staff into millionaires.

Since ‘retiring’, Dame Stephanie’s focus has been on philanthropy. She has focused especially on making a difference in the areas of autism – her late son’s condition – and IT. Over the last 30 years, she has given away almost £70 million to related causes and has helped three significant autism charities achieve sustainability: Autistica, Prior’s Court and Autism at Kingwood which collectively employ some 1,000 people. 

Dame Stephanie was the founding donor for the Oxford Internet Institute and has served on corporate boards in the UK and US. She was the first ever Non-Executive Director of the John Lewis Partnership and the first woman president of the British Computer Society.

In 1999, she was awarded the Mountbatten Medal by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.  A Past Master of the IT livery company, she was appointed a Companion of Honour in 2017 for her services to entrepreneurship and philanthropy, a membership limited to just 65 individuals around the world.