THE UK is 50 years behind America when it comes to opportunities for women in science, it has been claimed.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) raised fears over the gap after a speech by its president-elect, Professor Lesley Yellowlees.

The comments follow a recent study that revealed only 27% of Scottish women trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects were choosing jobs in the field.

Comparing how British women scientists fare compared to those in the US, Prof Yellowlees said: "It's clear that the UK is half-a-century behind when it comes to advancing the cause of women scientists."

Prof Yellowlees, the vice-principal of Edinburgh University, also said only two of the 44 women who recently became fellows of the society were women.

The professor, who will become the RSC's first-ever female president in July, said: "When the National Academy of Science announced their 2012 electees last week, 24 of the 84 – more than one in every four – were women.

"When the Royal Society announced their 2012 fellows earlier in the month, just two in 44 were women. In the UK, we do not have the same focus Awis [the Association for Women in Science] does and it shows."

The professor said the British equivalent to Awis, Women in Science (Wise), was only established in 2004. She added: "Who hosts Wise and how it is funded often changes so there is fragmentation that needs to be addressed.

Awis in the US is backed by many high-profile supporters, including First Lady Michelle Obama.

Prof Yellowlees added: "A couple of weeks ago the White House hosted a discussion on Women in Stem where one of the panellists discussed Nasa chemist Tracy Dyson's stay on the International Space Station.

"It is this level of profile we should aspire to for women scientists in the UK."

Last month, a Royal Society of Edinburgh study said a "leaky pipe" effect for women in the Stem sector was costing Scotland's economy £170 million a year.

Its research found that while some 56,000 women graduate in Stem disciplines a year, only 15,000 continue to work in the sector they qualified in.

Prof Yellowlees's comments came on the eve of her keynote speech at the fourth annual Science Scotland in Glasgow, which will touch on the value of science to the Scottish economy.

Speaking of the challenges ahead, she added: "Around 70,000 jobs in Scotland are directly dependent on the chemical sciences sector with more than £9 billion generated.

"I will never tire of telling politicians just how important our sector is to the health and well being of the nation."