This is a guest article written by Founder of Regeneration HQ, John Luxton, on raising the topic of unconscious bias in the workplace and how we can attract and retain female engineers.

It’s not easy. That’s a statement that can apply to any number of different situations and circumstances. It is also a common excuse for unconscious bias that damages others.

Let’s take people’s chosen pronouns as an example. When I was a younger man, there was no such thing as people choosing pronouns. You were a bloke or a sheila and that was that. Boys and girls – simple.

The only problem with that is that it was probably only true if you were cis-gendered. Before pronouns, there were LBGTQI people. They just didn’t have ways of identifying themselves in ways that straight people could identify with. A simple truth that has a profound impact in life is this – if you can’t describe something, it doesn’t exist.

Now we are developing language for the intricate differences that exist in who we are and how we identify and that is a net positive for society because it allows us to define ourselves on our own terms and hopefully describe ourselves in ways that others can start to understand.

But this piece is about the most basic and binary of human differences. Men and women. While we ponder this, let’s keep in mind that science now suggests that this is not binary at all. Being male or female is a spectrum, not an identity. Of all the terrible things about our species (and there are many of those), there is a consistent positive. We have the ability to grow, adapt and learn. Some things we have a common enthusiasm to learn about and from. Science and technology might be examples of that.

On the other hand, we show a curiously uneven and weak enthusiasm for growth and development in basic human social progress. For example, women (for the most part) are highly motivated to attain equality with men in every aspect of life. Men on the other hand, (and certainly not all men) seem to be quite content with the status quo.

What is this status quo? It is a default position that men are the masters of the universe and women are our helpers. Men make decisions. Women do “helping” like teaching and nursing and admin and being mums. All good things to be, but why do they have to be the things that define an entire gender?

Equality. I heard a couple of smart and erudite feminists on a podcast the other day and one Alex Casey said that a man had recently commented that equality was already achieved because “don’t girls have the vote now?” Case closed.

I remember when Helen Clark’s government were trying to get pay equity legislation through the parliament. Pretty simple and logical stuff. Basically the premise was that traditionally female professions such as nursing should pay the same as traditionally male professions like police.

Stuff like this should be a no-brainer, but no. A battle still being fought. Now get into the more complex area of women entering traditionally male professions such as engineering. This is multi-dimensional. Not for a moment would I suggest that there are simple, bumper sticker answers. Is it all men’s fault that there are so few women in engineering? Absolutely not. This is not to chastise men.

This is a call to action. Look at your own world and how you behave in it. Think about the unconscious bias you may bring to your profession around gender. You may not even be aware that you favour males over females. If you are courageous enough to recognise that bugger, yes I do that, you have an opportunity to do something about it.

If you appraise your thinking and actions and see that you don’t do that, great. You’re ready to move on to the next step which could be – what can I do to support the blokes around me to evolve their thinking. Or it could be – what can I do to be more proactive in empowering women to succeed in a not always welcoming environment.

Or it could be – am I in a position to encourage my daughters or their mates to look a little more closely at a traditionally male profession. Or it could be what I have decided to do next. My youngest daughter goes to a private co-ed secondary school and I notice that when I listen to her and her mates talking, the conversation between the boys and girls about career are different and the gap keeps widening the older they get.

I know what I am going to do. I’m going to make an appointment with the principal and I’m going to have a constructive conversation with him (of course it’s a him) about how we in industry can support the development of girl’s interest in non-traditional careers. When I’ve knocked that off and seen that I’ve moved the rock a bit, I’ll look for the next thing I can do. Why? Not because there is a direct benefit to me, although there most certainly is. Not because I’m a privileged white man doing good works, although that’s true too.

Because the true test of a person’s character and the test of a society’s health is how we think about, behave towards and treat people whose voice is not as loud as ours. It’s a matter of common decency.