Domain Group has given all of its staff immersive, virtual reality experiences of being excluded and bullied in a bid to boost employees’ sense of belonging at the company.
Two minute-long scenarios played out in the VR; one in which an employee experiences being left out of a conversation and has to ask to be included, and another in which an employee is intimidated and their personal space encroached upon.
The scenarios were realised by start-up Equal Reality based on scripts for the situations developed with Domain. The VR formed part of a wider diversity and inclusion training program, delivered by agency Making Work Absolutely Human (mwah).
With around 700 Domain employees having received the training this year, it is understood to be one of the biggest VR training initiatives in Australia.
“The results were incredible. The VR was able to give everyone strong empathy and an emotional reaction to issues around bullying and power,” Equal Reality co-founder Rick Martin told CIO Australia.
“It gave them an experience most wouldn’t have otherwise – it showed them not just what it was, but how it felt. It’s a scenario they couldn’t have had in any other form,” he added.
Virtual reality’s ability to put people in the shoes of another has been used to great effect ever since the technology became readily available and affordable. VR has been dubbed “the ultimate empathy machine”, but only recently have quantitative studies borne this out.
In Domain’s case, some 75 per cent of users reported feeling uncomfortable with how close a virtual person was standing to them in the immersive experience.
“You have a physical reaction on an unconscious level as well as a conscious level to this virtual character, and it’s berating and bullying you,” Martin said.
Close to nine in ten employees said the VR experience made them more receptive to the proceeding workshop, while nearly all (98 per cent) said afterwards that they now understood their personal role in diversity and inclusion.
For diversity trainers, VR is a teaching tool unrivalled in its effectiveness at evoking empathy, said Mwah CEO Rhonda Brighton-Hall.
“Being open to diversity is not just something to learn. It’s something you ‘feel’. [Many of us] have seen and felt exclusion and bullying up close. You never forget that emotion, that frustration. Being marginalised, minimalised, dismissed, unable to find your voice,” she said.
“So, how do you get people to understand that feeling? Tell stories? Sure. For people who will listen, listening to others is a great place to start. Even better is to get people to someone ‘feel’ it. And that’s virtual reality,” Brighton-Hall added.
Following the full training course at Domain, some 93 per cent of participants believed the company was fully committed to diversity and inclusion. Nearly all enjoyed the course.
“The response from participants has been excellent – with participants in the program able to empathise and discuss the experiences of our scenarios in our workshops with detail that just wouldn't be possible without actually experiencing it themselves,” said Nic Barry, organisational capability lead at Domain Group.
“I don't think role plays will ever cut it again in this space," he added.
Equal Reality – which in July received the backing of Optus as part of the telco’s Future Makers accelerator – says it is now working with one of the big Four banks on a similar roll-out.
Late last year the start-up developed a VR experience for the Royal Australian Navy around unacceptable behaviour and bias.
“We’re finding companies and organisations are sick of doing the same thing, so let’s do it differently. It’s like a fire drill for social reaction,” Martin said.
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