SEE Women’s Series Hosts Scientist Katharine Hayhoe

A large crowd waited to meet Atmospheric Scientist Katharine Hayhoe for the Support, Encourage Empower (SEE) Women’s Series in the Los Angeles Pacific (LAPC) boardroom on Jan. 23. The event was hosted by Azusa Pacific’s Center for Research in Science (CRIS) and was sponsored by SoCalGas and the Office of Women’s Development.

For her work in the field of science, Hayhoe has been recognized as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and was one of Fortune’s “50 Greatest Leaders of 2017.” She received the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication in 2018 and acted as an expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize. Hayhoe has written two books on climate change and currently teaches at Texas Tech University as a professor of political science.

But for all her accolades as a female Christian scientist, Hayhoe insisted that one of the failing components of modern science is the lack of diversity across the board, particularly in regards to women. This, she said, comes from an inner bias that starts at an early age.

“A lot of people have that idea that if you’re a girl, science is hard for you, which it isn’t,” Hayhoe said. “I mean, we have brains too.”

Hayhoe went on to speculate why people develop these notions and how out-of-touch with reality they can be.

“I still remember the day my son came home from preschool. And [I am] a scientist. His two little best friends at the time, both of their mothers were also scientists,” Hayhoe said. “He came home at age four from preschool and said, ‘You know, girls aren’t good at science.’ He had just picked it up in preschool!”

Hayhoe explained that although this mentality begins in childhood, it leads to problems as adults in science. Even when women are encouraged to join science fields, they are not always encouraged to stay in those fields. This is an issue Hayhoe says she’s noticed throughout her career, stating that although many people helped her along the way, her field was not always compatible with the traditional roles women take.

“I moved in a world that was structured very much around a man’s life, not around a woman’s life,” Hayhoe said. “So departmental meetings at five o’clock when your kid’s school gets out at 3:30. You know, expectations that you’re there to take the speaker out for breakfast at 7 a.m. when school drop off isn’t until eight.”

Women, Hayhoe said, are encouraged to join science fields, but once they are in those science fields, the pressure to keep up with a man when the odds are tipped against them oftentimes becomes too much, and they quit. She explained this is not only a matter of gendered expectations, though that plays a role. It is also sexism, whether intentional or not, and she often feels like “the only woman in the room” at almost any given time, especially as the education and work progress. As an undergraduate, about 30 percent of her class was female, but as she advanced, that number dwindled to 13 percent.

Hayhoe said sometimes the sexism women in science face is well-intended but is still bad. She gave an example  of when a male professor from a different university called her one day shortly after she had become a full-time professor and told her that he thought she was in the wrong department. He informed her that he had spoken to her superiors to tell them to put her in another department.

Other times, it’s more intentional, such as the time when a higher-standing male in the workplace patted her on the top of her head in front of a crowd and said, “you’re cute, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

However, sometimes, Hayhoe said, the sexism is not realized at all. Because people develop gender bias from a young age, denying highly qualified women for scientific roles in favor of men is very common. Hayhoe reflected on studies conducted where men and women switched names on their resumes, and across the board women were denied more often than men, no matter how qualified the resume appeared. But it wasn’t just women being denied by men; female employers also preferred male-named resumes over that of women, illustrating that the gender bias is instilled in women as much as it is in men.

Hayhoe also pointed out that as a Christian scientist, she has received a lot of hate mail not only from men, but from Christians who believe science and faith do not belong together.

“If faith is what we don’t see, then science is what we do see,” Hayhoe said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”

Personal attacks are a common thing for Hayhoe who, despite her accomplishments, is still insulted by Christians, men and other women. During the Q&A session, one female audience member asked Hayhoe how she dealt with the hate.

“My identity is a child of God,” Hayhoe said. “I have been created as a child of God, and even if everyone I knew hated me and turned against me, I would still have value and worth because of who I am intrinsically, not because of what people say about me.

Women and men in the audience applauded Hayhoe after the event with many saying they appreciated her call for more universal diversity in science. Rev.  Deb Shepherd-Webster, minister of Hospitality for First United Methodist Church, appreciated Hayhoe’s speech.

“I think it’s critical and absolutely necessary for the global survival of humanity,” Shepherd-Webster said. “Without conversations like this to start us into action and into cooperative relationships with each other — people who are different from us — then we will not be able to solve this.”