Family-friendly policy urged for female scientists

British Science will always be dominated by men unless the Government introduces family-friendly policies to encourage women to continue with their research, ministers were warned yesterday.

Job sharing and specific research grants for female scientists who return to work after having children must be introduced to stop the flood of women leaving Britain's laboratories, the renowned neurobiologist Baroness Greenfield said in a confidential report.

Talented female scientists will continue to abandon their research unless the Government introduces a package of family-friendly initiatives, Lady Greenfield said.

A new system of research grants must be established that would allow women to return to work on the same terms as they left, according to the report submitted to Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Minister for Women.

Lady Greenfield, a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University who headed the six-month inquiry into the barriers women scientists face, made three key recommendations for overturning sexism in the discipline.

Her report will call for a national scheme to encourage female scientists to return to work after having children and for more job sharing.

Lady Greenfield also hopes to establish a national database of women scientists to enable headhunters to find suitable candidates. She suggested that women were not as good at networking as men.

Her report will also praise the work of the Daphne Jackson Trust, a charity named after Britain's first female professor of physics, which awards fellowships to women scientists who want to return to work after a career break.

"We want to see that nationwide," Lady Greenfield said yesterday. "If you decide to have kids you should be able to return [to work] by applying for a ring-fenced grant."

Women scientists who currently take time off to have children early in their careers are forced to return in junior positions and "never regain the ground they've lost", she said. Ms Hewitt ordered Lady Greenfield's inquiry after a government report revealed that at any one time there are about 50,000 women science and engineering graduates not working – mostly after leaving to have children.

Lady Greenfield has been a longstanding critic of chauvinism among scientists.

Yesterday she renewed her attack, telling a meeting at the Royal Institution that while "bottom pinching" was now a thing of the past, today's deep-rooted "institutionalised sexism" was far more damaging.

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