A new funding programme aimed at encouraging women to return to or remain in careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) has been launched.

The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Advance Award programme will give grants of up to €175,000 to successful applicants over two years.

To be eligible a woman must hold a PhD, Masters or equivalent qualification and should not hold or have held a significant, independent research award of greater than one-year duration.

Only a quarter of researchers working in STEM in the private sector in Ireland are female, and SFI hopes the funding will encourage others to pursue careers in the area.

Director General of Science Foundation Ireland Professor Mark Ferguson said: "It is crucial that the STEM sector has programmes such as the Advance Award that incentivise diversity and gender-balance within the Irish private and public research system."

The deadline for submissions of expressions of interest is 28 March.