Real-life MI6 director Sir Alex Younger – code name “C” – shared the revelation in an attempt to recruit more talented women to the British spy agency, The Guardian reports.
Younger delivered the keynote speech at the Women in IT Awards in London.
He appealed for more women to join MI6, especially those with a scientific or technological background.
“If any of you would like to join us ... the real-life Q is looking forward to meeting you and I’m pleased to report that the real-life Q is a woman,” he said.
In the James Bond films, Q is MI6’s tech boffin who comes up with gadgets for the titular spy.
Throughout the films’ history, these gadgets have included everything from bug sweepers to gun pens to a ring that ensures Bond always wins at slot machines.
Although the character has been played by several actors over the years, including Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese and most recently Ben Whishaw, the character has always been male.
In his speech at the awards, Younger said some of the gadgets – properly called “operational tools” – created by the real-life Q for MI6 agents would “probably defy the imagination of spy writers”.
Younger’s appearance at the awards was part of an effort to diversify the talent pool MI6 recruited from.
“The more different people you have in the room, in these high-pressure circumstances in which we operate, the better the decisions. So success for me is a deeper, broader range of technological skills in MI6 and more diversity, in particular more women.”
He said the Bond books and films had been double-edged sword for MI6 when it came to recruiting, because although they raised its public profile, they also created misconceptions about the kinds of people the agency wanted to recruit.
“The problem for me is that we’ve got to get over and see through the Bond thing. Alright, that’s good actually – let’s do the Bond thing for a bit. It’s great in some ways because it means that all of our opponents think there’s an MI6 officer behind every bush and that we’re 10,000 times larger than we actually are.
“That’s all great, but there’s a problem because it leads to a stereotype which is of a particular kind or a particular sort of person that will join MI6, whether they’re really posh or going to Oxford or whatever it is. I’m none of those things by the way.
“And the issue for me is that stands in the way of something that I regard as being so important which is that we can reach into every community in Britain and make sure that we get the people that are the best regardless of their background.”