Women scientists, engineers and technologists have been given a boost from the UK government to help combat under-representation in their fields.
Almost half the workforce is underused in science and engineering
Over 100 women gathered to launch the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (Science, engineering and technology).
The centre, with £4m funding from the government, will focus on ensuring more girls and women take up SET, and stay in those professions.
About 75% of women with SET degrees are not in science-related careers.
Patricia Hewitt, secretary for trade and industry, said in a video message that science and innovation was key to the success of the UK economy on a global scale.
To maintain its global position in science, the UK had to concentrate on ensuring more female graduates went into SET industries and research, she said.
There is growing competition from India and China in these industries because they are producing and retaining so many more female SET graduates compared with the UK.
She added that women were missing out and the centre was a "wake-up" call for industry.
One of the centre's aims is to see 40% of women sitting on industry and academic boards in senior positions in three years' time, or less.
Centre director, Annette Williams, said women's talents were being wasted.
"Women make up almost half of the workforce and yet their talent and expertise are still not being utilised to the fullest - particularly in science, engineering and technology," she added.
"It is in the interest of progress, innovation, and economic success that this problem is addressed and the true potential of women is fostered. Shrewd employers are beginning to recognise this."
The centre, a key part of the government's 10-year investment framework in science and innovation which was published in July, will work with employers and SET experts to provide support, training, mentoring schemes, and information.
The prime minister has pledged that investment in science will rise from £3.9bn this year to £5bn by 2008.
Women in SET professions stressed that it was not just money that was required, but a talented skillbase.
Of key importance was recognising that men in senior positions had to have involvement in the centre's schemes and strategies, too.
Girls and data
Part of the remit will be to increase the profile of female SET experts in the public, and finding role models for young girls contemplating their careers.
Mentoring schemes will also be set up to support women working in SET industries and research, and consistent and publicly available data from industry and research will be collated.
Part of the research effort will examine the reasons why many women do not return to their SET careers after they take maternity leave.
Based in Bradford, the centre will have support from Sheffield Hallam University, the Open University, WISE (Women into Science and Engineering Campaign), and the Institute for Employment Studies.
The centre was set up as part of the government's Strategy for Women in SET, published in 2003 in response to the Greenfield Report in 2002.
It stressed the need to a national centre which could support women and help set up strategies for women in SET.