Why Shirley became Steve

In episode 1 of Nevertheless Dr Sue Black OBE, British author of Saving Bletchley Park, tells the story of why British tech pioneer Dame Stephanie Shirley changed her name to Steve in the late 50’s.

“She found that when she was sending her CV and to get jobs she was not getting any interviews. So chatting to her husband, her husband said ‘Why don’t you try sending in your CV with the name Steve Shirley to see if it makes any difference’. So she did that and found that she did get called in for interviews when people thought that she was a guy.”

Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley

After hacking the recruitment process with a simple name change, Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley eventually went on to work at the Post Office Research Station building computers from scratch and writing code. During this time she took evening classes for six years to obtain an honours degree in mathematics. In 1959, she moved to CDL Ltd, designers of the ICT 1301 computer. The big change in her life came after having a baby. With an investment of £6 and an honours degree in hand Stephanie hatched plans to build a family friendly company that gave employees flexible work conditions.

“She went on to have a baby and I think in those days you had to stop working if you became a mum. So she stopped working for the company that she was working for and decided, once she’d had the baby, to set up her own business. So she set up a consultancy. But what happened was she got lots of work and had too much work for herself. So she went to women with babies, working from home as programmers. An example of the kind of software that they were producing is the Concord black box flight recorder. She grew what was a consultancy into a massive software house called ‘F International’ which after a few years employed about 300 something women. Why haven’t I grown up knowing her name? Really? You know. Why isn’t she one of the most famous people in the UK. I really don’t know. When she’s done stuff which is similar to any of the tech pioneers that we do know about, most of whom are men.”

At its peak in 2000, the business that Stephanie had started from her dining-room table with an investment of just £6 was worth almost £2.6bn.

You can find out more about the challenges of bias in recruitment organisations face and why it’s essential to have diverse teams build products for diverse users in episode one of Nevertheless.

Nevertheless is a a podcast celebrating the women transforming teaching and learning through technology. Supported by Pearson. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, TuneIn or RadioPublic.