Doctor Who Breaks the Tech World’s Glass Ceiling

The long-time TV hero becomes a woman—and an inspiration for women aiming for high-ranking tech roles.

The time-travelling, alien-fighting technological genius Doctor Who is breaking the glass ceiling while many of the character’s real-life, tech savvy counterparts are trying to do the same.

This week the British Broadcasting Corp. announced that the role of The Doctor, its science fiction hero who travels the universe in a old-fashioned UK police call box and changes appearance every few years, will be played by a woman, a first in the Doctor Who’s 54-year history on television. The Doctor’s character is always adapting, so it seems natural that the character could eventually become a woman, says Emmeline Kuhn, principal in Korn Ferry’s Chief Information Officer practice. “Via time travel, you can put anyone in that role. Why can this role not evolve into a female role?”

Doctor Who is one of the most iconic science fiction television shows. The show first appeared on the BBC in 1963 and is popular worldwide. The Doctor, the main character, remains the same, but throughout the years has been played by many different actors, all white men. When the show returns to the air later this year, The Doctor will, for the first time, “regenerate” into a woman.

It’s still notable when any prominent tech-savvy character on television is portrayed by a woman, a fact that mirrors real life. Last year, only 14 percent of the Chief Information Officers at Fortune 500 companies were women. That’s despite many organizations having programs specifically designed to promote women into high-ranking positions.

The companies who have successfully promoted women to top tech spots tend to have strong mentorship programs, says Emmeline Kuhn, principal in Korn Ferry’s CIO practice. These programs are usually not voluntary, either. “Certain individuals are required to sit down with high-potential female employees and make sure they’re assisted with what they need to improve and grow,” Kuhn says.

Over the long-term, education is the key to get more women and other diverse groups into CIO jobs, Kuhn says. It’s great that women can read about how The Doctor will now be female, but there also needs to be a continued push to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Kuhn is heartened by recent developments. “Girls now think of information technology as a potential career option for them. In the early stages of tech, there wasn’t a thought put to it.”