Last May, the closing ceremony of the Astucieuses programme took place. This COlab initiative is designed for female students pursuing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree at an educational institution in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. Rio Tinto’s Regional Economic Development (RED) department has supported this initiative since its creation two years ago.
A total of 23 Astucieuses were awarded certificates made of aluminium in recognition of their achievements. Rio Tinto also had the honour of presenting the Étincelle de l’entrepreneuriat scholarship, a value of $2,000, to one of the candidates. Fourteen projects were presented at the event, which took place at the COlab offices in Alma.
“It was an inspiring and rewarding experience to see so many innovative ideas come to light thanks to the Astucieuses project and especially the talent of the young women who participated in the second cohort. By supporting COlab and the Astucieuses, Rio Tinto’s Regional Economic Development department is helping the next generation of women to chart their own course and play a bigger role in STEM fields,” says Xuân-Lan Vu, Director, Social Investment and Regional Economic Development.
The Astucieuses programme also aims to develop women’s leadership skills. Josée Gauthier, General Manager of COlab, points out that in Canada, less than 5% of women start a business in the technology sector.
“We asked ourselves how we could promote women entrepreneurs in the region in the field of technology […]. We brought together undergraduate, masters, doctoral and post-doctoral students in science, mathematics and computer science to raise their awareness of entrepreneurship,” she says.
Throughout the programme, the students took part in a series of workshops to help them develop an idea for an entrepreneurial project, which they then explored and tackled in various ways over the following weeks.
The Astucieuses initiative was spread over a school year and required three to five hours of participation per week from the participants, who were able to build relationships with each other.
“The creation of an Astucieuses community is undoubtedly one of the best results of the programme. We have seen not only strong friendships develop between these women […] but also opportunities for them to make themselves known to the business community, an area with which they would otherwise have no contact. I’m convinced that this can have a positive impact on retaining talent in the region,” adds Gauthier.
Rio Tinto is an inspiring partner for Gauthier as the multinational allows many women to pursue careers in science and technology. For her, one of the highlights of the Astucieuses programme was meeting Josette Ross, Director at the Rio Tinto Arvida Research and Development Centre, and her team.
At the end of the ceremony, all the partners renewed their commitment to the Astucieuses initiative, which will continue for another two years. A total of $67,000 in scholarships were awarded.