Bias not budging? VR can offer different perspectives.

The conscious (discrimination) and unconscious (bias) that make up our thinking and behaviour in the workplace have increasingly come under the spotlight, particularly in the current global economy that necessitates transformation and innovation to compete. Companies have grown increasingly complex and diverse yet many business leaders continue to make sub par decisions and lack the awareness needed to unlock talent and collaborate effectively.

This can have a stifling effect on a company’s culture and reduce creativity, innovation and productivity. Studies show companies that pioneer a diverse, inclusive workplace culture, significantly outperform those that have a rigid, stagnant culture, which is resistant to change.

While many professionals seek training and development tools to shed light on bias and culture, they use outdated tools which result in an underwhelming return on investment. For unconscious bias to truly be brought to attention and dealt with at the source, it must be experienced and internalised.

With immersive technologies such as virtual reality and 360 video, every employee has the opportunity to experience their company culture from a minority perspective, and feel the brunt of someone exposed to bias.

Why focusing on a more inclusive company culture is important

Unconscious bias can be damaging to a company’s overall growth. The many benefits of a more inclusive and diverse company have a measurable effect on performance.

Studies by Deloitte reveal that the benefit in dollar terms of having an inclusive culture is significant. Teams are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets.

In addition, the employees within inclusive cultures are three times as likely to be high performers and six times more likely to be innovative and agile. Overall, inclusive company cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

When culture inspires diversity of thought and experience, creativity reigns. We have greater innovation, new ideas and out of the box thinking that comes from each individual’s unique perspective.

We have seen in recent times that the old models which form company cultures have been failing. With the #MeToo movement and Australia’s own Royal Commission into the Banking Industry as prime examples, there is still a lot more we can do to eliminate unconscious bias and lead more consciously into our future.

What are the challenges?

The first step to recognising unconscious bias is by first recognising it in ourselves. As we speak with our colleagues and make leadership decisions, we need to have the awareness of when we are being unintentionally bias in our interactions.

Companies that have a fixed and inflexible culture will struggle to adapt when bias is deeply rooted in the subconscious of its people. As leaders, we need to recognise when our colleagues might be making decisions or speaking in a way that prevents others from contributing and performing at their best.

By understanding what unconscious bias looks and feels like, we have a much better chance of calling it out. By aiming to combat unconscious bias through a deeper understanding, a culture of curiosity, and where the communication is open and honest, the company can shift to include, and indeed celebrate difference.

Through traditional mediums like online courses, seminars, and reports, corporations have allocated large budgets to reducing bias but with little success. It is only in the last decade that we have begun exploring the huge potential that virtual reality offers as a personal and professional development tool.

Using Virtual Reality for corporate training

Technology gives us the power to immerse ourselves in impossible environments. Scenarios that would otherwise be inaccessible provide the perfect training ground to address the issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Immersive technology, such as VR 3D environments and 360-degree film, is rapidly being adopted in corporate environments (Woolmart, NRL, Facebook). And it works. A study by the University of Maryland found that when compared with a desktop memory recall exercise, a VR solution was found to have an improvement rate 9% in recall accuracy. Furthermore, the participants made 41% fewer errors than those trained in non VR.

Virtual reality training is no longer just considered entertainment value, studies have shown that retention and engagement in VR far exceed other training mediums. The human brain learns best through doing. By placing individuals in a simulated, immersive learning environment, the brain processes information in the same way it would if the user was actually there.

This is an exciting prospect when considering the implications of corporate training. If leaders experience the workplace from the perspective of an employee who feels powerless, unheard and excluded, this means the issue can be highlighted in real time like never before. Further, when experienced this way, knowledge is retained in a way that makes it stick with us, be embodied, and be recalled much more easily. What makes it so effective?

VR technology is the future

Consider the incredible volume of information we consume every single day. From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with social media, advertisements, television talk shows, traffic, phone calls, emails and radio.

Our brain has the immense job of processing all this information, compiling and sorting what will be useful for us later, or using it for decision-making and responding, often under pressure. It’s no wonder our brain has evolved to make snap (sometimes bias) decisions to lift the cognitive load.

Training methods need to be updated to cut through this clutter, to engage and to help time-poor leaders retain what’s important and take high performing and diverse teams into the future.

Sustainable businesses that perform well into The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be those that are skilled in interpersonal relations and collaboration, the uniquely human factors that bind all roles and operations. Understanding and connecting to fellow human beings has never been so central to our existence, and we are certain that humanising technology like virtual reality will take us there.

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