In pursuit of STEM career: Alumna finds support for women in Sheridan’s cyber security program
Steffi Marcos’ career trajectory as a cyber security expert is almost textbook perfect. Soon after graduating from Sheridan’s Information Systems Security program in 2022, she got permanent employment at PwC Canada, a leading consultancy firm. As Senior Associate, Cyber Forensic Investigations, Marcos is currently a member of a dynamic team that ensures cyber safety for the firm’s clients and helps them to stave off potential cyber threats through proactive measures.
Not only does Marcos’ instant success upon graduation speak to her merit and hard work, but it also underlines the immense job opportunities available in the field of cyber security. According to a World Economic Forum report, the global cyber security workforce was short some 3.5 million workers in 2021, with organizations around the world scrambling to find trained experts to protect their businesses against cyber threats.
Marcos’ personal experiences have put to proof another finding of the report: the obstacles faced by women as they seek education and careers in science and technology. The report says that lack of encouragement for women in STEM disciplines is one of the factors that has caused an extreme gender gap in the field of cybersecurity, with women accounting for only 25 per cent of the workforce.
Before joining Sheridan, Marcos was studying data science at a university, and she says she dropped out of the program due to her mental health.
“I want to encourage more women to consider pursuing cyber or any STEM discipline if that’s what their heart desires, as I think representation and diversity are very important.”
“There weren’t a lot of women in the class, and there were times when some of my male peers made me feel uncomfortable … like I needed to prove something to them. It made me afraid to ask for help, as I knew I would be perceived as incompetent. I struggled a lot with my mental health by not having a support group during my time at the university, and for internalizing the bad interactions I had with some of my male peers. I was a lot younger, and I did not have the tools or resiliency back then to confidently complete the program,” she recalls.
“I think the key to overcoming these negative experiences is by having encouraging and supportive people around you – whether that’s within the program, at the school, or from a mentor that can provide guidance to you during these situations. Otherwise, it can be difficult to overcome alone.”
The current gender imbalance in STEM classrooms carries through to the workforce where women are not equitably represented in careers such as cyber security, fuelling perceptions that they are not suited for certain professions.
“My experience at Sheridan was incredible. I met a lot of amazing people as well as teachers at Sheridan who really cared about my well-being and success at school. Having that support system helped me build confidence.”
“Things are progressing, but it is unfortunate that some women continue to be subjected to gender stereotypes and gender roles. I still find there are women who struggle because they are not supported when they demonstrate an interest in STEM disciplines,” Marcos says. It is often assumed that women would not thrive in this space, that they don't have the same skill sets as men, and the lack of encouragement may cause women to not even consider STEM disciplines, she says.
“I see this bias coming from both men and women. In addition, entering a workplace that is more male-centric can feel very isolating. I want to encourage more women to consider pursuing cyber or any STEM discipline if that’s what their heart desires, as I think representation and diversity are very important. The more people we have in this area from diverse backgrounds, the better it is for collaborative purposes,” she says.
At Sheridan, Marcos says she finally found the support she was looking for in her program, which is now named Honours Bachelor of Information Sciences (Cyber Security). “My experience at Sheridan was incredible, and I could compare it to my earlier experience from university. While it was still male-dominated, I found that my peers truly respected me and valued my opinions. I met a lot of amazing people as well as teachers at Sheridan who really cared about my well-being and success at school. Having that support system helped me build confidence,” she says.
She also lived in Sheridan’s on-campus residence for two years and became a Resident Advisor and a Community Programming Lead. “That was also one of the best decisions I ever made at Sheridan because it made the college experience a lot more fulfilling,” she says.
Sheridan is committed to developing talent in cyber security, connecting with high schools to tackle the gender inequality and pipeline gap in the sector by nurturing the untapped potential in the community and responding to the need for more equitable representation in the cyber industry.
By 2025, Sheridan plans to welcome 300 more students into the degree program, offer a new graduate certificate and a diploma program, and provide cyber security programs at its campuses in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville.
The College recently received a $500K gift from Mississauga-based Stratejm which would allow it to expand and enhance offerings for cyber security students.
At Sheridan, Marcos also got the opportunity to build her career through the co-op component of the program and interned at PwC for eight months. After the internship, she was offered a part-time job at the firm and was hired on full-time basis upon graduation.
“There's always going to be a need for cyber security. There is a role for everyone within this space and as technology advances, there will be so many more opportunities.”
Marcos’ team supports clients in the event of a major cyber attack or crisis situation, ranging from data breaches to ransomware attacks, to minimize and mitigate further damage to systems and data, as well as minimize business risk. She also works on developing incident response playbooks to help clients limit the consequences of likely cyber security incidents. This means documenting instructions for responding to the incidents and also detailing the responsibilities of the technical team and the management team, so that they can effectively collaborate.
Cyber security is an ever-expanding field, with plenty of job opportunities. “There's always going to be a need for cyber security. The pandemic, which witnessed so many cyber crimes, nudged organizations to pay attention to this area. And you can work in a lot of different domains within cyber security – it could be security operations or consulting like me. It really depends on your strengths and your interests. But there is a role for everyone within this space and as technology advances, there will be so many more opportunities.”
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