Bid to get women back into science

November 29, 2002

One in five science, engineering and technology posts should be held by a woman by 2005. At present, fewer than one in eight SET professors is female and in some engineering disciplines the figure drops to one in 100.

This is one of the targets set by Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, in her report on women in SET, handed to the government yesterday. She warned that underrepresentation of women in SET was a threat to global competitiveness.

But she stressed that the problem would not be solved in one fell swoop - a long-term approach was needed. Her key strategy proposals were:

* To reduce fragmentation of effort. The report identifies 70 organisations working independently and suggests that the Department for Trade and Industry create a Working Science Centre to act as a hub
* To promote changes in working culture. There should be funding for people returning from career breaks and for skills updating, and incentives for employers to take on part-time staff and job-shares. By 2007, 1,500 of the estimated 50,000 female SET graduates who are not working, should be returning to work
*To refocus policy-making: targets should be set for numbers of women on strategy panels; codes of good practice adopted to ensure employers offer sympathetic work environments; and female staff turnover should be monitored. By 2005, women should comprise 40 per cent of SET advisory boards
*To set up a SET advisory panel, which would report to the chief scientific adviser and would keep track of issues relating to both men and women. A second group should ensure that any recommendations are implemented.

Baroness Greenfield's report notes the progress that has been made in 2002, in the shape of several significant female appointments. These include the first female chief executive for a research council, two new vice-chancellors, several heads of SET departments, and the first female directors for a number of professional institutions.

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