British universities with the best policies for increasing female participation in science, engineering and technology could soon be rewarded with substantial cash grants, writes Julia Hinde.
A number of initiatives to attract and keep more women in science is being considered by the higher education funding councils, the Office of Science and Technology and the Commission for University and Career Opportunities. These are thought to include giving grants to institutions with specific initiatives such as female mentoring or confidence-building schemes.
Despite much discussion and effort, women are still rare in the top ranks of science. Just 7 per cent of professors in Britain are women, compared with 18 per cent in the United States and 14 per cent in Australia. Only 3 per cent of British science professors and Royal Society fellows are female.
In Brussels last week, a conference on women and science heard that despite initiatives to change the situation in many countries, the number of women entering science, engineering and technology is still low and women are very likely to drop off further up the academic hierarchy.
One delegate described the path of women undertaking a scientific career:
"At the beginning there is an iron gate, then a sticky floor. At the top there is a glass ceiling, and in between a hurdle race."