The traditionally male-dominated Royal Society moved a small step closer to equality last week when it appointed four female fellows.
The society announced the appointment of 44 fellows - one of the greatest honours for a scientist - on Friday. Although female fellows represent less than 10 per cent of this total, the society hopes their appointment will quieten media speculation that it is biased against women, following the revelation last month in The Times Higher that Baroness Susan Greenfield had not been elected this year.
A spokesperson for the society said this week that it recognised the number of female members was still disappointingly low, but stressed that this reflected the underrepresentation of women scientists at senior levels in higher education and industry.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, in 2002-03 just over 11 per cent of professors in science subjects were women.
Two of the new female fellows are based at Cambridge University: Lynne Gladden, professor of chemical engineering; and Carol Robinson, professor of chemical biology, who also won the society's Dorothy Hodgkin award for excellence last month.
Caroline Dean, associate research director at the John Innes centre; and Nancy Rothwell, MRC research professor at Manchester University and a Times Higher columnist, were also elected fellows.
Professor Robinson said: "I am the first woman professor in the chemistry department at Cambridge so I'm particularly delighted to have this recognition. I hope it will encourage young female scientists. It seems to have made a big difference to people in my department."
Professor Gladden said: "I was surprised to get the letter telling me (about the fellowship). It was a wonderful feeling."
She added: "I certainly see in my own department that you get a decent percentage of women undergraduates - though not a majority - but then many women are not choosing to pursue an academic career."
Both women agreed that although it was important for younger women to have role models in the Royal Society, the society should not move towards positive discrimination in favour of female candidates.
NEW RS FELLOWS
Samson Abramsky (Oxford); Spencer Barrett (Toronto); Julian Besag (Washington DC); Timothy Birkhead (Sheffield); Martin Bobrow (Cambridge); Donal Bradley (Imperial); Malcolm Brown (Bristol); Charles Catlow (Royal Institution); Graeme Clark (Melbourne); Gordon Conway (Rockefeller Foundation); Lennox Cowie (Hawaii); Anthony Cullis (Sheffield); Partha Dasgupta (Cambridge); Nicholas Day (Cambridge); Caroline Dean (John Innes Centre); Graham Dockray (Liverpool); Richard Durbin (Sanger Institute); David Epstein (Warwick); Gerard Evan (San Francisco); Bland Finlay (Nerc);
Norman Fleck (Cambridge); Carlos Frenk (Durham); Vernon Gibson (Imperial); Lynn Gladden (Cambridge); Bryan Grenfell (Cambridge); Andrew Hamilton (Yale); Stephen Halford (Bristol); Edward Hinds (Sussex); David Holden (Imperial); David Kemp (UCL); Malcolm Longair (Cambridge); Alan Martin (Durham); John Mitchell (Meteorological Office); William Motherwell (UCL);
David Preiss (UCL); John Pyle (Cambridge); Carol Robinson (Cambridge); Nancy Rothwell (Manchester); Peter St George-Hyslop (Toronto); David Solomon (Melbourne); Christopher Stringer (Royal Holloway); David Tollervey (Edinburgh); Nicholas Wald (Queen Mary); Dale Wigley (Cancer Research UK).