Women in Tech

What makes for a good representation of women in tech and science films or TV shows? For International Women’s Day, we’ve compiled a round-up of eight or so that we think show the best qualities in the best way. From a race and gender icon in a futuristic starship to a Nobel prize-winner in an ensemble comedy, here we go…

Catherine Durand (War Of The Worlds)


Perfectly played by Lea Drucker, Catherine Durand is a great representation of women in professional science and technology. She features as one of the leads in War Of The Worlds, a 2020 television series based loosely on the classic 1898 novel by HG Wells.

Durand is an astronomer, based at a research facility in the French Alps, who discovers a strong radio wave coming from space. It could only be of alien origin, and a response to Earth’s own hopeful signals. Sounds a bit like Jodie Foster’s character in the 1997 film Contact, so far, doesn’t she?

However, in War Of The Worlds any plot similarity ends there, as there is no benign interspecies hang. Within hours of Durand detecting the extra-terrestrial signal hell on earth in unleashed as our planet is attacked. Most of the population is wiped out – billions of people. The series follows small pockets of rag-tag survivors across Europe – including one containing Durand – as they scavenge and scrape their way through a deserted world and attempt to… well, survive.

It’s a bleak premise – and the makers of the TV show rely almost exclusively on great acting, steady pace and old-school analog invention rather than CGI (though there is some) in order to create a truly creepy atmosphere. We won’t give away any spoilers, other than to say that despite being part of an ensemble cast Durand is central to the evolution of the whole story. Her intelligence, acumen and determination are crucial to how the survivors of the human race take on the invaders.

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Uhura (Star Trek)


In terms of the Star Trek franchise, we could have picked other strong females – Captain Janeway in Voyager or Michael Burnham in Discovery, for example. But we’ll go the old school route here, and focus on the original series (sometimes referred to as TOS) as we think the character we’re looking at is probably the true icon. Across more than 75 episodes of Star Trek in the 1960s, Lieutenant Uhura became socially important on two fronts. A communications officer aboard the starship Enterprise, she was one of the earliest recurring televisual representations of a strong and equal black woman.

Indeed, when actor Nichelle Nichols was thinking of ‘moving on’ after just a year in the role, it was Martin Luther King Jr – a fan of the show – who changed her mind. King explained that her character signified a future of greater racial harmony and cooperation – and, years later President Obama thanked Nichols for being a role model to a generation (as well as revealing he’d had a crush on her when he was young). Uhura was also directly involved in a moment of TV history. In a 1968 episode a kiss shared with Captain Kirk was the first inter-racial kiss shown on American television.

Kicking the sci-fi cliché of the ‘damsel in distress’ to the kerb, Uhura was highly capable and professionally respected, and her personal worth as a member of the crew was recognised by all. In the 21st-century we tend to take things for granted, but there have been important steps along the way to our more tolerant society – and fifty-five years ago Uhura was one of them.

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Ryan Stone (Gravity)

Warner Bros

Gravity is a visually stunning film, perhaps one of the best looking of all time, and the technical achievements of the filmmakers were ground-breaking upon release in 2013. But, in the end, it is Sandra Bullock as an actor and Ryan Stone as her character which hold the film together at the heart, and make the biggest impact.

Debris from a destroyed satellite crashes into astronauts as they are attempting to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Stone is a biomedical engineer stranded during the spacewalk. The remaining duration of Gravity is, basically, the astronaut applying science and technical competence to bravery and intelligence in an attempt to get home to Earth.

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Cameron Howe and Donna Clark (Halt And Catch Fire)


This series (produced in the mid-2010s) is a fictionalised account of the computer revolution in the 1980s and the growth of the internet in the early 1990s. Cameron Howe (the brilliant Mackenzie Davis) is a programmer and game designer and Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) is a computer engineer and businesswoman. They found a company which develops online games, online shopping and a form of social network.

Clearly influenced by the tone and pacing of the show Mad Men, Halt And Catch Fire is a little bit of an acquired taste. But it’s certainly one of the most interesting and positive representations of women in tech.

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Amy (The Big Bang Theory)

Warner Bros

To redress the balance of early episodes of US comedy The Big Bang Theory, which had perhaps relied on a kind of watered-down / geek version of toxic masculinity, the character of Amy was added into the mix around 60 episodes in. She’s a neurobiologist, and every bit as great as notional main character Sheldon. Forthright by nature, and initially quite serious, Amy does develop into a more rounded character.

The fact that the actor playing her, Mayim Ballik, has a Ph.D in neuroscience in real life is a rather delicious parallel win. However, if you wanted to you could easily argue that the impact of Amy’s character diminishes over time as she is subsumed into episode after episode of well-meaning but formulaic ensemble comedy a la Friends. But on the other hand Amy does go on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, so there is still some good role model material there!

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Trinity (The Matrix)

Warner Bros

Women in tech has a slightly different meaning, here – as for much of The Matrix (and the three sequels which follow it) the character Trinity spends much time within the computer data, in the virtual world. Literally ‘a woman in tech’.

The human race is imprisoned and most of mankind is slaved to the machines, which have taken over the world. The humans power the Matrix, a sophisticated virtual reality used to control them by tricking them into thinking they are experiencing real life, while the machines farm their bodies for energy. Trinity is one of a band of rebel hackers who somehow escaped, and lead a revolution against the machines. Played by Carrie-Ann Moss, Trinity is a great example – bold, direct, and confident.

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Judith Hann and Maggie Philbin (Tomorrow’s World)


Whereas most of the other people we have mentioned in this article reside in the fictional realm, Judith Hann and Maggie Philbin are very much real people. At different times each was the inspiring and personable female presenter in the Tomorrow’s World team.

The show was the BBC’s flagship science and tech magazine, featuring reports on innovations and developments, plus product reviews. As the visible face of women in tech (the show was a prime time hit for the BBC between 1965 and 2016) on a week-by-week basis both Hann and Philbin proved that science and tech weren’t exclusive domains of men. Or, at the very least, they raised awareness and held the doors open for subsequent generations of women to pass through. We could, here, just as easily have talked about astronomer Heather Couper, another inspiring figure presenting a TV show during the same era.

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Lena (Annihilation)

Paramount / Netflix

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a scientist and part of a team sent to investigate ‘the shimmer’ – a strange, possibly alien, phenomenon. It’s not the most exciting film you will ever see, to be honest, but it’s probably important as a piece of feminist literature.

In a key moment (in the context of the article you’re reading) Lena mentions that the research / exploration team are “… all women”. Another character corrects her by saying: “All scientists”. Yes, the women in Annihilation are scientists but they are not framed as being unique or remarkable because of it. This fact is, of course, important and challenges the unconscious notion of narratives told, and female characters written, from a patriarchal perspective. The message in Annihilation is very clear – nowadays the “women” bit should be an irrelevance. Perhaps in the future it will be.

That’s our round-up of some of our favourite positive depictions of women in tech and science films and TV. There are, of course, many more – and please do feel free to write about your favourites in the comments section!

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