The government's research councils will monitor the success rates of female scientists applying for research grants and fellowships.
The decision follows a recent study of the Swedish Medical Research Council's 1995 fellowship competition, which showed that women faced discrimination.
An initial survey by each of the UK research councils and the Wellcome Trust suggests that the success rates of men and women are broadly comparable. But there is some evidence that female application rates are lower than would be expected given the gender balance in the relevant community.
Women sought only 30 per cent of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council fellowships in the past two years. In the physical sciences, rates are even lower. This year, women applied for just 9 per cent of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council fellowships.
Nineteen per cent of applicants for three-year grants to the Wellcome Trust are female, as are 17 per cent of those applying for five-year grants. A third of those seeking fellowships to develop research are female. Yet in 1995/96 there were only marginally more male academic biomedical staff than female in UK universities.
Joe Anderson, head of the trust's policy unit, said he will work with other institutions to identify barriers stopping more women from seeking grants.