Two buzzwords of the…twenties, the time has come when they begin to work together..hurrah!

With almost every aspect of society now co-dependent on technology, most – if not all of us, couldn’t live without it, whether we would like to admit that or not. Technology helps us do things easier, faster and better (on the whole!). The next step is using Technology for Good.

We are now seeing technology improve well-being, save lives through innovative tracking of location, heart rate and potentially hazardous environments, and also be a real door opener when it comes to accessibility for all, with several tools online supporting the creation of inclusive digital experiences, through action recognition technologies and site reading tools, for example.

One such tool – that you may be more familiar with for its gaming or streaming capabilities, is Virtual Reality (VR).

What is Virtual Reality?

Although it might scream FUTURE to you, it’s actually been around a while (even being pioneered as far back as the 1800’s!). But as devices have become more accessible (primarily through their price point), they’ve provided both techies and the general public with opportunities to entertain, educate, collaborate and train themselves on a variety of things.

VR captures the real world in a computer-generated environment and immerses users in these developed digital environments using head-mounted displays. VR experiences are then processed by the brain as real-life experiences, teaching their user to learn by doing as their decisions directly affect the situation around them. With a VR headset on, a chef can become a pilot, an athlete can perform heart surgery, or a child can become a power ranger…the possibilities are endless.

OK, but how can HR and OD professionals use VR?

Let’s go back to that chef/pilot idea. We’re not advocating that your local takeaway takes charge of a Boeing 747, nor that your pilot is trusted with your pad Thai, but it could give them each an appreciation of the skills and competencies required in a role – and what day-to-day experiences can be like for that employee in that role.

Practically, this can allow for workplace scenarios to be played out and for people to get a real appreciation and understanding of what’s in a role (have you ever wondered what ‘Creatives’ do all day?), when looking to join, or once in, an organisation. So, for recruitment, retention or for the curious in your workplace, VR could be very useful.

What about VR for EDI leaders?

As well as role types, there are several factors that could make one person’s experience of the world extremely different to how another may see it. This is something that diversity and inclusion leaders work to bring attention to, and through the correct strategy, initiatives and goals, aim to create a genuinely authentic and inclusive environment.

To do this, we must be able to recognise our differences and the values attached to them – things like ethnicity, gender, age, social mobility, sexual orientation and the disabilities people have, make us all unique in our own ways, and virtual reality is one tool, out of many, that can help us understand the experiences of others better. It’s one of the few ways we can really be empathetic and understand the experiences of someone other than ourselves in a situation we would never experience on an average day.

If that wasn’t enough for you to start considering using the right technologies like VR more in your strategy, consider that 89% of leaders surveyed agreed that the right technology would make achieving D&I goals easier, according to a poll by Finance Monthly.

Implementing VR in your EDI strategy

We’ve already seen how VR EDI training is being piloted by many HR departments across the world. These organisations, like JP Morgan and Amazon, have used virtual reality technology to change behaviour by learning what it is like to experience discrimination and inappropriate behaviour, and how to identify bias. It supports EDI leaders to teach their teams how to deal with challenging situations from the perspective of multiple people.

Practically, most EDI training currently on offer is engaging, educational and enlightening – across a mix of in-person and remote talks and modules, ranging from informational pieces on neurodiversity to quizzes on unconscious bias, for example. But people learn in different ways – some visual, some through auditory absorption, and some through kinaesthetic, active learning. Imagine how VR can enable a kinaesthetic learner to better understand the principles of EDI better (or understand anything better in the workplace, for that matter)…

Customisable experiences with VR expand the possibilities and potential effectiveness of training, but similar to most inclusion initiatives, this is not the silver bullet or one-and-done solution. While no amount of training can change everyone, data suggests that virtual reality experiences can leave a lasting impression and alter perceptions. It’s sure to play a bigger part in recruitment, retention and training in the future; could it be something to consider as part of your EDI strategy in 2023?

Want to talk more about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion? See how we can help with outreach and the effective implementation of training internally via our Diversity Consultancy Service.