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Diversity education is a virtual reality journey into the future

It’s hard to understand an experience you’ve never had.

Even in an age marked by increased social awareness of race, expressing compassion and realizing what other people are experiencing can be a powerful stimulus for change. This is especially true in the workplace, where we often interact with people of different backgrounds.

Companies have traditionally responded to this with an unconscious bias course, which usually includes PowerPoint presentations or compression training for employee testing. Maybe this is combined with a session with the participation of experts on enlargement and diversity.

But often it is easy to get over these problems without paying full attention, it is difficult to measure the amount of effort.

To address this gap, curriculum development startup Praxis Labs has launched Pivotal Experiences, a VR-based tool designed to take inclusive diversity to the next level. The platform enables employees to feel what it means to resist bias and discrimination in the workplace, and teaches them how to respond best.

Users are asked to speak aloud to other Avatars to reflect on what happened for a more effective experience.

“By providing compassionate, immersive experiences that empathize, we help build mutual understanding,” said Elise Smith, co-founder and CEO of Praxis Labs. “By providing intervention opportunities, we help change the way people actually work in the workplace.”

The New York-based company last month funded $ 3.2 million in seeds from sponsors, including SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund. Uber, eBay, Amazon և Google were among the company’s early test partners. It now leases the platform to expand with other partners.

The platform is launched at a critical time for US companies as the epidemic sheds light on the nation’s workforce inconsistencies.

“If the last 12 months have shown us anything, it has shown what has been around for a very long time,” said Cavita Mariapan, chief executive of Zscaler Diversity, a cloud security platform. “There is a certain corporate urgency, because we need to act instead of including diversity, not just be aware.”

The software works on smartphones and computers, but that magic seems to happen in virtual reality, where every month employees are assigned an avatar, which faces a certain problem.

Digital scenarios reflect ideas gathered from a wide range of employees. For example, it could be someone who is exposed to indirect forms of bias, age or other forms of discrimination. An avatar can be an observer who witnesses someone being treated unfairly, thus giving employees the opportunity to try to be an ally.

The startup designed the avatars to represent the global workforce.

If you look in the mirror in a virtual space, you will see the image of someone else looking back at you. They can be of a different race, gender or body size. They can be executive or low-level employees.

Users are being asked to respond out loud, as if they were that person, “to get as close as possible to someone else’s perspective,” Smith said. It is a subscription-based service. Companies register for up to six months with annual liabilities.

Although no training can change everyone, the data suggest that virtual reality experiments can leave a lasting impression և change perceptions.

Researchers at the University of Barcelona found that men who used domestic violence showed more emotional compassion after actually putting themselves in the victim’s shoes. Other studies have shown that VR scenarios are just as likely to increase empathy as the “embodied” experience in which people physically recreate the experience of others.

“Putting people on the scene in the real world, these invisible situations suddenly become visible,” said Nonni de la Pecha, pioneer of empathy VR and founder of Emblematic Group.

The strategy of Praxis Labs is to create feedback.

The software asks the employee how they can react to certain situations in real life and then suggests the best scenario approaches. Consolidated insights are shared with the user’s employer, and personalized data with the trainee, who can continue to learn over time.

“Even if we can see that someone is feeling biased or discriminated against or that something really unequal is happening, it is really difficult to voice it. And the only way to change that is to build those muscles, ”Smith said.

Empathy training in VR does not solve everything. “The lack of inclusion is a deep, complex issue that starts from the top down.” But it does give companies a new tool that can have a greater impact, says Ers Enifer Makin, Leadership Pipeline Institute, chief executive officer of a consulting firm in the workplace.

Diversity inclusive advocates are skeptical of the idea, saying it would likely appeal to Generation Z, whose members, studies show, are more likely to stay in organizations they perceive as a diverse, inclusive workforce.

“Today, this generation of workers will be much more comfortable to learn than something static or pre-planned,” Mariapan said.

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