The last time I watched Doctor Who it was in black and white. I don’t do science and I certainly don’t do science fiction.
But all that will change in a week or so with Jodie Whittaker at the helm. I will be watching. What’s more I will be encouraging all young girls I know to watch too. From now on it’s going to be cool to be the geek and a girl geek at that. All hail the female good doctor. The casting of this wonderful, strong Huddersfield actress as the new Time Lord .. yes, she is still going to be a Lord not a Lady .. makes this new series more than just a television drama. It’s an important step towards equality not just in the acting profession (Jodie is paid the same as the last male doctor Peter Capaldi) but in the world of science and technology where women are woefully under represented. Why? Because if I travel back in time and visit my teenage self it was a world viewed by many young girls to be more suited to boys. It still is. And Jodie and her eclectic costume of cropped pants and cool sturdy footwear could change all that.
I know it’s only a TV programme but it’s peak family viewing and it matters what we see on our screens. It matters that the new Dr Who is not only a woman but a Yorkshire woman to boot. Jodie insisted she used her real voice and her real voice has a Yorkshire accent. No posh doctor here and that will speak volumes for young girls everywhere and show each one she can and should be in charge of her own destiny whatever her background, wherever she comes from, in whatever world she chooses.
If you don’t believe how important a main stream drama is on the consciousness of its viewers how do you explain the sudden interest in careers in espionage and security following the hit drama Bodyguard? I believe Doctor Who in her latest incarnation can do the same for girls who are quite as capable as the boys at leading the way in science, technology, engineering and maths, it’s just that by and large they don’t. You only have to see the strong female dominated publicity pictures and television promos surrounding the new series to envisage the difference it could make. It could quite literally change female role models for ever. No pressure Jodie.
The character of Doctor Who was first conceived in the early sixties. Since then the greatest changes in our life time have come from science and technology. It is also our greatest skills shortage with more than a million vacancies predicted to go unfilled in the coming years and these are important and often well paid jobs. The key is to persuading young girls that they are not jobs for the boys. The stats are worrying. Young girls when they think of choosing science think of medical doctors. Women make up half the workforce. When it comes to technology it’s less than 20 per cent and engineering less than ten. In fact women only make up around 15 per cent of the total workforce in science technology engineering and maths. And the figures don’t add up.
My very good friend and engineer graduate Carol Vorderman is passionate about the whole issue. She points out that girls do better than boys at science up to and including GCSEs. They then drop out. “ What happens?”, she cries. The answer is simple. It is still not seen as being a job for them. But is should be. Over the last few years I have met many wonderful women at the heart of science and technology. It is a woman who heads up Microsoft’s overseas development team and chairs the Yorkshire based WISE campaign ( Women into Science and Engineering). It is a woman in charge of the technology for Airbus’s Mars space walker. A woman who leads the vital research into the cure for Alzheimer’s at University College London and a woman who is the boss of the Leeds based Sky digital programme.
I said at the beginning I don’t do science and I don’t do science fiction. I don’t, because it didn’t seem to matter to me. But it should have done. Science and technology affects a large part of my daily life, as it does yours. And it was my preconceived ideas that were wrong and continue to impact the choices made by young women today. So if I can’t travel back in time like the good doctor, at least I can encourage the next generation to be at the forefront of change. And watching a female Doctor Who is a start. Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Time Lord. Lucky for girls . Lucky for Yorkshire. Lucky for anyone who believes there is still many a glass ceiling to be shattered.