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Can Virtual Reality Mitigate the Impact of Unconscious Bias?

Can virtual reality (VR) help someone be more empathetic? Can it mitigate the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace? Recently, Dr. Randal Pinkett and Lawrence Hibbert, Co-Founders of BCT Partners, were interviewed by Diversity in Action magazine to answer those very questions. They explained how VR can lead to conscious inclusion by enabling a user to walk in another’s shoes and see things from a different viewpoint. When BCT Partners teamed up with Red Fern Consulting, their goal was to create the first VR tool that could transform diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs. The tool called Through My Eyes allows users to virtually embody the experience of another persona in different workplace scenarios. It is now enabling organizations to teach their employees how to recognize it and move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion. The missed opportunity with some DEI training programs is that they simply have not evolved with the times. They are utilizing many of the same methods originally developed in the 1960’s of telling people what to do rather than offering experiences that lead to new insights. As the old adage from Benjamin Franklin says, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” And it is crucial for organizations to get it right. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, workplace discrimination, which is related to unconscious bias, costs businesses an estimated $64 billion annually.

As Dr. Pinkett explains there are real differentiators in why this VR experience works so well, “We use 360-degree video-based virtual reality. Video-based VR is where you are actually immersed in a scene or scenario as if you are there. Everything from the room around you to the people at the table are realistic. You can be an observer in the room, or you can assume the identity of one of the people in the immersion. You embody their experience, and you see things through their eyes.” The user can experience what it’s like to be of a different gender, ethnicity, or race and can hear the inner dialogue of that person. Lawrence Hibbert continues, “You not only hear the conversation, but you also hear the subtleties in the mind of the persona you are entering and how that person might feel if their comments are ignored or if someone speaks over them. Then you have the opportunity to go into another persona and experience it from a completely different point of view.”

According to Steve Mahaley, co-founder of Red Fern Consulting, “The goal is to blend VR immersions and data capture to create a powerful experience that helps individuals recognize their own bias in action.” And it could not come at a better time. Most corporations are actively trying to recruit and retain employees with diverse backgrounds. Yet despite the positive intentions, most of these programs are failing. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “the positive effects of traditional diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two.” One of the shortcomings with traditional DEI programs is that those who are being trained never actually ‘walk in the shoes’ of someone who faces bias in their daily life. Through My Eyes changes all of that because VR is used to put people in actual situations where they must confront some of their own obvious or hidden prejudices.

One other reason that Through My Eyes is so powerful, is because after all the scripts were written, they were vetted by subject matter experts in inclusion, micro-aggressions, unconscious bias, and workplace equity. BCT and Red Fern also utilized a combination of their own comprehensive consulting experience, focus groups, research and in-depth interviews with employees, managers, and executives. The goal was to accurately reflect the voices of each of the personas.

And while Through My Eyes is a game-changer, Dr. Pinkett and Hibbert see this as just one tool in their arsenal to transform workplace equity. Using VR in combination with innovation, expertise, and analytics, they develop both data driven and customized solutions for their clients in both the public and private sector. As Dr. Pinkett says, “When you bring in these different modalities all wrapped in an analytic engine that can give you hyper-personalized insights, you transform people, teams, departments, organizations and ultimately you transform society.” Hibbert continues, “Societal change starts with individual and awareness. At BCT Partners, we want to see culture change. We want to create tools and experiences that reinforce that. The culture change is long and challenging. But that’s what we’re trying to move towards. We’re trying to help organizations revolutionize their workforce, workplace, and marketplace.”

To learn more about how BCT Partners’ expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion consulting and how it can help transform your organization, please contact us.


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