Tired of barriers keeping promising young women, low-income students, and people of color away from computer science and engineering careers, Ruthe Farmer—the former Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion at the Obama White House—has committed her life to equal opportunity in tech.
After getting her MBA at Oxford’s Said Business School, Ruthe began to fully explore why so few computer science graduates were women—especially because it wasn’t always that way. “It was really shocking,” Ruth says. “In 1984, 37% of graduates were women. It had declined by 2004–2005 to around 10%.”
She also realized that it wasn’t just a problem for women. Frustratingly few low-income students and people of color were achieving degrees focused on science, technology, engineering, and math—collectively known as STEM fields. “We had to fix computer science for everybody,” she says. “It wasn’t just that women’s participation had declined. Everybody’s participation had declined.”
Since then, Ruthe has been integral to the design, launch, and scale-up of multiple national initiatives and social enterprises promoting diversity and inclusion in tech. Currently, she’s the Chief Evangelist at Computer Science for All (CSforALL) and the founder of the Last Mile Education Fund. She has also served as the chair of Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), was named a White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion, and received the Anita Borg Institute Award for Social Impact.
“We see these kids as an investment opportunity,” Ruthe says. “If I invest in you succeeding, you’re going to pay it forward to other people. When you invest in women, you benefit the families and the community.”
Computer Science and STEM for Everyone!
Ruthe’s first major stepping stone into her journey may have started with the Girl Scouts of the USA where she promoted Technology and Engineering education. She thought, “you’ve got all of these girls in this infrastructure. Let’s use that to normalize computing as part of life for an American girl.”
Under Ruthe’s guidance, the Girl Scouts began accomplishing just that, and the organization continues to blaze down that path today. So far, they’ve implemented 78 badges related to robots, computing, coding, cybersecurity, and other STEM-related subjects. “We became the informal education hub of the National Center for Women in Information Technology,” she says.
Though proud of her work, she knew it wasn’t enough. Ruthe wanted all underrepresented students to have access to computer science. That’s when she helped to launch Computer Science Education Week, a nation-wide program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students from any background to explore and learn about STEM careers.
The program’s quick success soon got Ruthe noticed by the Obama White House. With a desire to boost equity in STEM education through community outreach, the Administration initially relied on her as an outside asset. Then, in 2015, she was asked to officially join the team as the leader of President Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative.
“The initiative inspired me because we live in an engineered world [that is] largely designed by less than 25% of