Social Entrepreneur

In the austerity of post-World War II England, jobs were few, and opportunities for women to earn a wage were even fewer. So, on her dining room table, Stephanie Shirley founded the kind of company she’d like to work for – one that posed challenging, rewarding tasks, built around flexible work rules that made it possible to have a real life.

Her software company, Freelance Programmers made her one of the richest women in England (and one of the few to have earned her own money). Initially employing only women – Shirley often bid for contracts as “Steve” to compete in the male-dominated industry. The company was eventually valued at $3 billion, while 70 of the staff became millionaires when it floated on the stock market.

But money wasn’t Shirley’s object.

“A lot of people go into business to make money. I really didn’t; I went in with a mission for women. Conversely, I was determined never, ever to be poor again.”

Freelance Programmers became the FI Group became Xansa; it was acquired by Steria in 2007.

Shirley retired in 1993, but she hasn’t stopped pushing for progress in the fields she loves. For instance, she works tirelessly to push forward research into autism spectrum disorders, as well as to study and improve the IT industry and the role of the internet in society.

She told the Guardian, “I do get committed, and I don’t just give my money; I try to give of myself.”