Oral history of British science

Shirley, Stephanie (Part 10 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Henley-on-Thames

  • Interviewees

    Shirley, Stephanie, 1933- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: Further remarks on Dollis Hill: limitations of salary, clothing, five and a half day week, living frugally, buying a single rose once a week. Description of living in bedsit at the top of a house in owned by Mr and Mrs Coen in Walm Lane, with her own nameplate. [04:49] Remarks on: 1975 equal opportunities legislation meaning FI Group had to employ men, being the only woman at conferences, having to be careful not to only talk to women. Comments on her membership of Forum, a group of the top women in varied fields: including Ann Muller, Prue Leith, Katharine Whitehorn, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss; began as a group for talking about women's issues but became both a personal and professional support network; typical subjects of discussion, such as legislation, company experiences; left in favour of Hilary Cropper. [09:25] Comments on being the figure head for FI on a number of committees: joined because they were interesting opportunities that extended her network; BBC industry committee, leading to programs such Harvey Smith's consultancy projects, similarities to charity work; a display and speech on new technology and the disabled in the House of Commons for the International Year of Disabled People; remarks on technology always taking longer than expected. [14:48] Comments on British Computer Society [BCS]: membership from time at Dollis Hill; fascinating meetings and useful networks; being initially too shy to ask questions; taking it in a more commercially aware than academic direction when she later became president and as vice president commercial; useful network; launch of Computer Conservation Society; motivation and pressure of being first female president to make a good example, similar situation to ethnic minorities. [20:17] Comments on the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists [WCIT]: being invited to join the founding court, including Bernard Harty, Barney Gibbons, [short pause] Alan Benjamin; 100th guild company of the City of London; becoming master of the company; [24:52] story about inviting Bill Gates to give a lecture to the captains of industry, having to relocate after disruption by bomb. [30:07] Remarks on: benefits of livery company status for IT, becoming chartered body, busy year as president; anonymously arranging to financially support WCIT; mutual benefits of association with the Mercers’ Company, such as a visit from Buzz Aldrin. [35:33] Remarks on necessity of anonymous research before giving a gift, revealing herself as donor of gift to WCIT. Comments on membership of British North American Committee in 1990s: non-governmental organisation; membership of active chairmen of leading companies, rejecting opportunity to remain on committee after her retirement; other members such as Brenda Dean, Maureen Farrow, Barbara Judge; [41:05] strategic topics of conversation such as corporate governance and patents. Comments on importance of such networks to her: likes to belong to things; spent too much time on her own in company, likes a stimulating peer group; liking to work on a world wide level; anecdote about Chinese ambassador's response to intellectual property abuse. [45:18] Remarks on: continued influence of colonialism; serving on civil service panels after offer from Michael Betts. [48:53] Comments on membership of honours subcommittee: debating honours, making changes to better represent women, spending several years on committee, criteria for a Knighthood, enjoyed working with senior civil servants. [55:15] Comments on: earlier membership of the more technical Computer Systems and Electronics Research Board [CSERB] chaired by Sir Robert Clayton; Electronics and Aviation Requirements Board membership. Comments on membership of Advisory Committee for Applied Research and Development [ACARD]: management style; interesting Margaret Thatcher in women in management, but only to an extent; knowing Thatcher through Buckingham University. [1:01:04] Remarks on: selecting committee membership to give her access to stimulating people; benefits of relationships. Comments on her approach to business ethics: blowing the whistle on the Department for Health on the CUBITH database project; and Computer Communication Telecoms Agency, where they refused pressure to change from IBM to the British ICL. [1:05:44] Remarks on: large British Telecoms project when she retired from FI in 1993, importance of fixed price derangements, long term relationships with clients following conversion projects. Comments on innovative business practices. [1:10:55] Remarks on changing feelings about recruiting from outside company, being a learning organisation. Remarks on way information technology was treated by government in the 1980s, working of ACARD committees, importance of good chairs, emphasising importance of software. [1:14:52] Comments on Margaret Thatcher: sharp minded; anecdote about not recognising Dennis Thatcher after a meeting at Number 10 and Margaret Thatcher's domestic habits; SS previously favouring Shirley Williams for leadership; scientific ability to synthesis information. [1:18:25] Remarks on changed view of research to favour interdisciplinary work, increased integration and discipline compared to her own experience at Dollis Hill. Remarks on her own politics: independent, floating voter, but leaning toward Labour Party.

  • Description

    Interview with entrepreneur, computer scientist and philanthropist Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley.

  • Related transcripts

    Dame Stephanie Shirley interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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