City of London - Engineering Hall of Fame

Dame Stephanie Shirley CH BSc FREng (born 1933)

A stateless Kindertransport refugee child, Dame Stephanie was raised in the UK from the age of five and took British citizenship as soon as she was 18. As a software engineer, IT entrepreneur and venture philanthropist she built a hugely successful company then used her financial gains for philanthropy in the City of London and beyond.

City of London Connections

Initial Steering Group, then founding Court of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT), later Master in 1992/3 (excluding Royals, only the second woman Master ever). Introduced Bill Gates to the City. WCIT and other charitable bodies were beneficiaries of her philanthropy after her IT company’s flotation and later sale. She sponsored WCIT Hall, the first new Hall in the City for 50 years.

Dame Stephanie was admitted as a Freeman of the City of London in 1987 and served as Vice President City & Guilds (2000 – 5). Her 31 honorary doctorates include Birkbeck, City, and London Guildhall.

In an interview in 2013 she explained why she had made £67m social investments.

Contribution to Engineering during Lifetime

At 18, she joined the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, designing computers and writing code. While there, she studied part-time at the Sir John Cass College, now City University, to gain her Honours degree in Mathematics 1959. She studied postgraduate at Birkbeck.

Worked on Computer Systems and Electronics & Avionics Requirement Boards, two of the first three transatlantic telephone cables, the first electronic telephone exchange and various early computers including ERNIE, the Premium Bond computer.

Dame Stephanie Shirley at Dollis Hill

In 1962 she founded Freelance Programmers (FI group, then Xansa later to become plc) primarily for women programmers working from home. Only three men amongst the first 300 staff. This positive discrimination stopped with the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975.

She is a role model for entrepreneurship in the IT industry, and for women in engineering, after encountering sexism in her early years. She built and developed a highly successful company founded on engineering principles and then used the financial gains for philanthropy.

Non Executive Director of the Atomic Energy Authority and of Tandem Computers Inc. Her many achievements and recognition define her as an iconic engineer, a role model for the best of values to be embraced by future generations.


Pioneering IT entrepreneur and champion of women’s rights in the workplace.

Known for philanthropy, Dame Stephanie set up the Shirley Foundation in 1986. Beneficiaries have included WCIT, Oxford Internet Institute, and autism charities.

First woman President of British Computer Society 1989/90. Elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering 2001. The first woman to deliver its Hinton Lecture (2019).

Decorations and Recognition

1985 Recognition of Information Technology Achievement (RITA).

1999 British Institute of Management Gold Medal.

Dame Stephanie Shirley receiving the Mountbatten Medal in 1999

Dame Shirley receiving the Institution of Electrical Engineers 1999 Mountbatten Medal from the Duke of Kent

2013 one of the UK top 100 influential women assessed by Radio 4 Woman’s Hour.

2014 UK Science Council named her as one of top 100 practising scientists in UK.

2018 Lifetime Achievement award from Chartered Management Institute for ‘stellar contribution to British Engineering and Technology’.

2021 One of three women recognised as Engineering Heroes for This Is Engineering campaign – Royal Academy of Engineering, BecomingX and Amazon.

OBE 1980 for services to industry.

DBE 2000 for services to Information Technology. CH 2017 for entrepreneurism and philanthropy.

There is a bust of Dame Stephanie at the headquarters of WCIT.

References and Further Reading

Let It Go: My Extraordinary Story – From Refugee to Entrepreneur to Philanthropist with Richard Askwith 2012. Revised edition published by Penguin 2019. (Also published in German and Spanish).

So To Speak – an anthology of selected speeches given by Dame Stephanie over the past 40 years.

Dame Stephanie Shirley

There is a portrait of Dame Stephanie in Balliol College, Oxford.

Photograph in National Portrait Gallery.

Wikipedia entry

Personal Website

Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals

Dame Shirley contributes to many of the SDGs, such as 8 and 9, but her contribution to enhancing women’s role in the tech industries and becoming a role model for gender equality and women’s empowerment deserves special mention.

SDG Targets 5.1; 5.5; 5.a; 5.b; 5.c; 8.2; 8.3; 8.5; 9.c;

All images courtesy of Dame Stephanie Shirley

Year of Induction
Sponsoring Livery Company
Information Technologists