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Diversity education is a virtual reality journey into the future

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

Still in an age marked by increased social awareness of race, expressing compassion, realizing what other people are experiencing can be a powerful driver of 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 growth session with experts on diversity inclusion.

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 gives employees the opportunity to experience what it means to face 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 practices, 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’s diversity 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 this magic seems to happen in virtual reality, where every month employees are assigned an avatar, which faces a certain problem at work.

Digital scenarios reflect ideas gathered from a wide range of employees. For example, it could be someone who experiences indirect forms of bias, age, or other forms of discrimination. An avatar can be an observer who witnesses someone being treated unfairly, so it allows employees 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 a picture 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 to someone else’s perspective as possible,” 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 show that virtual reality experiments can leave a lasting impression և change perceptions.

Researchers from the University of Barcelona found that men who committed domestic violence showed more signs of emotional compassion by actually putting themselves in the place of the victim. Other studies have shown that VR scenarios are as likely to increase empathy as the “embodied” experience in which people physically recreate the experience of others.

“Putting people on the scene in a real situation, 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 bigger impact, says place enifer Makin, Leadership Pipeline Institute, chief executive officer of a workplace consulting firm.

Diversity inclusion 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 see as a diverse, inclusive workforce.

“Today, the generation entering the workforce will be much more comfortable learning this way than something static or pre-planned,” Mariapan said.

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