The government is spending around £1.5m on initiatives to encourage female scientists to return to science and persuade more women to choose scientific careers.

The aim is to redress the balance in what is traditionally a male dominated area. Currently only one sixth of SET (science, engineering and technology) graduates working in the field are women. It is also estimated that at any one time 50,000 female SET graduates are not working, and of those who do return to work only around 8,000 go to jobs that use their qualifications and training.

The reason for women's poor showing in SET jobs, could relate to the fact that very few teachers in these fields are women — government figures show that as few as one in 20 SET professors are female.

Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary and minister for women, announced the foundation of an £800,000 science centre. This will work with employers and female scientists to improve recruitment and retention in the industry, and to provide women with support if they choose to return to employment after a career break.

The science centre, which will be set up through competitive tender, with the contract planned to be awarded by autumn, will be designed to deliver a range of measures. These include; recognising and rewarding good employers; raising the profile of women in science; creating a database of female experts; developing mentoring and networking schemes and spreading best practice.

This move has been made in response to the findings of Baroness Greenfield's report 'SET Fair', which looked into how to recruit and retain women scientists. She welcomed today's news, saying: "I am delighted and excited that the government are putting real money into this vital initiative".

The other part of the funding — £500,000 — will be used to encourage women to return to careers in science after a break.