Canadian scientist Elizabeth Cannon believes the UK can learn lessons from her country about improving opportunities for women.
Professor Cannon, who has been touring the UK as part of an exchange scheme between the Royal Society and its counterpart in Canada, stressed that men as well as women needed to work to change the culture in science and engineering.
She said: "Schoolgirls worry that if you aren't living and breathing science, you can't do it. But I tell them I have a life. I have a family."
Canada has focused on providing role models, establishing five regional chairs for senior women - they will spend half their time on research and half on gender-equality activities. Professor Cannon won one of the first of these five-year awards.
Nancy Lane, a zoologist at Cambridge University who set up the exchange scheme, said many male academics had resented these positions, viewing them as positive discrimination rather than "positive action".
But Professor Cannon said: "We were all senior researchers. We had proved ourselves on men's terms. Now we are saying something new."
She added: "It is a model that could easily be replicated elsewhere."