De Beers Group is launching a scholarship program aimed at supporting women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fields known collectively as STEM.
Two four-year, full-tuition scholarships are being awarded to University of Waterloo students starting this academic year, and an additional 14, four-year scholarships will be offered at universities across Canada starting in 2018-19. De Beers has yet to determine which schools will offer the scholarships next year.
The grants are part of the diamond mining and marketing corporation's three-year, USD$600,000 partnership with UN Women.
“We know that through the diversity of a workforce, if you can get close to a gender parity, for example, that a company and communities will perform at a much more successful rate,” said Tom Ormsby, a spokesperson for De Beers Canada, over the phone from South Africa on Tuesday.
“Our goal is to try to encourage females in particular, who are underrepresented in the sciences and in STEM programs, to give them support to pursue that.”
Right now, the scholarships cover tuition (based on Waterloo's fees) and some additional support.
Exactly what additional expenses the scholarship will fund have yet to be decided, but these could include money for family to visit students while they're away at school, said Ormsby.
Students are not required to choose an area of study directly linked to mining in order to be eligible for the scholarship.
“If someone has an interest in the mining-related professions, obviously that would be tremendous, but we're not going to limit it to that,” said Ormsby.
“They may choose a discipline that we may not directly have a role for them in the company, but it's still a valuable scholarship to award because they may be able to contribute in their home community or somewhere else in the country.”
Top priority will be given to students from Northwest Territories and northern Ontario - areas where De Beers operates.
Ormsby said he wants young women, particularly Indigenous women, in these regions to know that these scholarships are available to them.
“It's not necessarily just targeting the high population of students in southern Ontario, the high population of students in other places,” he said of the academic grants.
“We want to make sure ... that any students from areas where we operate have a really strong chance of participating in this program as well.”
Apart from the scholarships, De Beers will take part this year in Waterloo's IMPACT camp, a summer camp for Indigenous girls, held at the university, that is meant to enhance interest in post-secondary education.
De Beers employees will also act as mentors during Waterloo Women: Ideas Makers, Innovators, an event at which students, faculty and alumni collaborate on ideas for businesses, products and positive social change.
A steering committee of representatives from the University of Waterloo, UN Women and De Beers Canada will meet throughout the academic year to ensure the scholarship program achieves the desired outcomes.
This year's scholarship winners are set to be announced this fall semester.