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  • When I wrote my memoir,

  • the publishers were really confused.

  • Was it about me as a child refugee,

  • or as a woman who set up a high-tech software company back in the 1960s,

  • one that went public

  • and eventually employed over 8,500 people?

  • Or was it as a mother of an autistic child?

  • Or as a philanthropist that's now given away serious money?

  • Well, it turns out, I'm all of these.

  • So let me tell you my story.

  • All that I am stems from when I got onto a train in Vienna,

  • part of the Kindertransport that saved nearly 10,000 Jewish children

  • from Nazi Europe.

  • I was five years old, clutching the hand of my nine-year-old sister

  • and had very little idea as to what was going on.

  • "What is England and why am I going there?"

  • I'm only alive because so long ago, I was helped by generous strangers.

  • I was lucky, and doubly lucky to be later reunited

  • with my birth parents.

  • But, sadly, I never bonded with them again.

  • But I've done more in the seven decades since that miserable day

  • when my mother put me on the train

  • than I would ever have dreamed possible.

  • And I love England, my adopted country,

  • with a passion that perhaps only someone who has lost their human rights can feel.

  • I decided to make mine a life that was worth saving.

  • And then, I just got on with it.

  • (Laughter)

  • Let me take you back to the early 1960s.

  • To get past the gender issues of the time,

  • I set up my own software house at one of the first such startups in Britain.

  • But it was also a company of women, a company for women,

  • an early social business.

  • And people laughed at the very idea because software, at that time,

  • was given away free with hardware.

  • Nobody would buy software, certainly not from a woman.

  • Although women were then coming out of the universities with decent degrees,

  • there was a glass ceiling to our progress.

  • And I'd hit that glass ceiling too often,

  • and I wanted opportunities for women.

  • I recruited professionally qualified women who'd left the industry on marriage,

  • or when their first child was expected

  • and structured them into a home-working organization.

  • We pioneered the concept of women going back into the workforce

  • after a career break.

  • We pioneered all sorts of new, flexible work methods:

  • job shares, profit-sharing, and eventually, co-ownership

  • when I took a quarter of the company into the hands of the staff

  • at no cost to anyone but me.

  • For years, I was the first woman this, or the only woman that.

  • And in those days, I couldn't work on the stock exchange,

  • I couldn't drive a bus or fly an airplane.

  • Indeed, I couldn't open a bank account without my husband's permission.

  • My generation of women fought the battles for the right to work

  • and the right for equal pay.

  • Nobody really expected much from people at work or in society

  • because all the expectations then

  • were about home and family responsibilities.

  • And I couldn't really face that,

  • so I started to challenge the conventions of the time,

  • even to the extent of changing my name from "Stephanie" to "Steve"

  • in my business development letters,

  • so as to get through the door before anyone realized

  • that he was a she.

  • (Laughter)

  • My company, called Freelance Programmers, and that's precisely what it was,

  • couldn't have started smaller: on the dining room table,

  • and financed by the equivalent of 100 dollars in today's terms,

  • and financed by my labor and by borrowing against the house.

  • My interests were scientific, the market was commercial --

  • things such as payroll, which I found rather boring.

  • So I had to compromise with operational research work,

  • which had the intellectual challenge that interested me

  • and the commercial value that was valued by the clients:

  • things like scheduling freight trains,

  • time-tabling buses, stock control, lots and lots of stock control.

  • And eventually, the work came in.

  • We disguised the domestic and part-time nature of the staff

  • by offering fixed prices, one of the very first to do so.

  • And who would have guessed that the programming

  • of the black box flight recorder of Supersonic Concord

  • would have been done by a bunch of women working in their own homes.

  • (Applause)

  • All we used was a simple "trust the staff" approach

  • and a simple telephone.

  • We even used to ask job applicants, "Do you have access to a telephone?"

  • An early project was to develop software standards

  • on management control protocols.

  • And software was and still is a maddeningly hard-to-control activity,

  • so that was enormously valuable.

  • We used the standards ourselves,

  • we were even paid to update them over the years,

  • and eventually, they were adopted by NATO.

  • Our programmers -- remember, only women,

  • including gay and transgender --

  • worked with pencil and paper to develop flowcharts

  • defining each task to be done.

  • And they then wrote code, usually machine code,

  • sometimes binary code,

  • which was then sent by mail to a data center

  • to be punched onto paper tape or card

  • and then re-punched, in order to verify it.

  • All this, before it ever got near a computer.

  • That was programming in the early 1960s.

  • In 1975, 13 years from startup,

  • equal opportunity legislation came in in Britain

  • and that made it illegal to have our pro-female policies.

  • And as an example of unintended consequences,

  • my female company had to let the men in.

  • (Laughter)

  • When I started my company of women,

  • the men said, "How interesting, because it only works because it's small."

  • And later, as it became sizable, they accepted, "Yes, it is sizable now,

  • but of no strategic interest."

  • And later, when it was a company valued at over three billion dollars,

  • and I'd made 70 of the staff into millionaires,

  • they sort of said, "Well done, Steve!"

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads:

  • They're flat on top for being patted patronizingly.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • And we have larger feet to stand away from the kitchen sink.

  • (Laughter)

  • Let me share with you two secrets of success:

  • Surround yourself with first-class people and people that you like;

  • and choose your partner very, very carefully.

  • Because the other day when I said, "My husband's an angel,"

  • a woman complained -- "You're lucky," she said,

  • "mine's still alive."

  • (Laughter)

  • If success were easy, we'd all be millionaires.

  • But in my case, it came in the midst of family trauma and indeed, crisis.

  • Our late son, Giles, was an only child, a beautiful, contented baby.

  • And then, at two and a half,

  • like a changeling in a fairy story,

  • he lost the little speech that he had

  • and turned into a wild, unmanageable toddler.

  • Not the terrible twos;

  • he was profoundly autistic and he never spoke again.

  • Giles was the first resident in the first house of the first charity that I set up

  • to pioneer services for autism.

  • And then there's been a groundbreaking Prior's Court school

  • for pupils with autism

  • and a medical research charity, again, all for autism.

  • Because whenever I found a gap in services, I tried to help.

  • I like doing new things and making new things happen.

  • And I've just started a three-year think tank for autism.

  • And so that some of my wealth does go back to the industry from which it stems,

  • I've also founded the Oxford Internet Institute

  • and other IT ventures.

  • The Oxford Internet Institute focuses not on the technology,

  • but on the social, economic, legal and ethical issues of the Internet.

  • Giles died unexpectedly 17 years ago now.

  • And I have learned to live without him,

  • and I have learned to live without his need of me.

  • Philanthropy is all that I do now.

  • I need never worry about getting lost

  • because several charities would quickly come and find me.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's one thing to have an idea for an enterprise,

  • but as many people in this room will know,

  • making it happen is a very difficult thing

  • and it demands extraordinary energy, self-belief and determination,

  • the courage to risk family and home,

  • and a 24/7 commitment that borders on the obsessive.

  • So it's just as well that I'm a workaholic.

  • I believe in the beauty of work when we do it properly and in humility.

  • Work is not just something I do when I'd rather be doing something else.

  • We live our lives forward.

  • So what has all that taught me?

  • I learned that tomorrow's never going to be like today,

  • and certainly nothing like yesterday.

  • And that made me able to cope with change,

  • indeed, eventually to welcome change,

  • though I'm told I'm still very difficult.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

When I wrote my memoir,

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【TED】Dame Stephanie Shirley: Why do ambitious women have flat heads? (Dame Stephanie Shirley: Why do ambitious women have flat heads?)

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