Transcript

Dame Stephanie Shirley: You can always tell ambitious women by looking at the shape of their heads. They’re flat on top from being patted patronizingly. And I’m sick of it.

I was an unaccompanied child refugee who came to this country on the Kindertransport in 1939. I was 5 years old. And it was, indeed, a very traumatic 2.5-day journey across Europe. And it has driven my whole life. That’s who I am. And even 75 years later, I still feel that need to justify my survival.

Going into business was really not a natural for me. I’m really much more interested in public service. But I had come across the glass ceiling in a very good employer, and said, I’m sick of being patronized as a Jew, patronized as a woman, I’m going to do my own thing.

I suddenly had this idea that I could set up a company that was a company of women, a company for women selling software, which, at that time, was given away free with the hardware. So, everybody laughed. You can’t sell software, and certainly not as a woman.

I had such difficulty with this double feminine name of Stephanie Shirley, Shirley being my marital name. My dear husband suggested that I use the family nickname of Steve. And so I started signing my letters as “Steve Shirley.”

And I began to get some response. And I would be through that door and shaking hands with somebody before they realized that he was a she.

Women’s careers are often linked with our child rearing. Our only child, Giles, was a lovely baby. And I know every mother says that. But then, at 2.5 years old, he lost the little speech that he had and turned into a wild, unmanageable toddler.

The bombshell diagnosis was that he was profoundly autistic, and he never spoke again. So, that tragedy really drove the second part of my life and why I now work in autism, not computing.

I have funded a whole lot of medical research into the causes of autism. I can talk with other parents about autism, because I have been through the hell that they’re going through.

I like to do new things. I’m a starter of things. I like to make new things happen. The more successful an organization or a project, the less I become interested and the less I have to contribute. So, I’m an entrepreneur.

My name is Dame Stephanie Shirley,and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on making things happen.