When you think of diversity training, you likely remember the traditional PowerPoint presentation with a handful of slides outlining what unconscious bias is and how to avoid it in the workplace. You may have even gotten a little more interactive with a pre-recorded, 3–5-minute video accompanied by a short survey to test how well you understood the material. Or, if there’s been a greater investment in the effort, you might have participated in a live group session with diversity and inclusion experts for something more hands-on. But, regardless of the teaching method, one thing is clear: while these can be an effective way to learn for some, they often leave a lot to be desired. 

The reality is, when it comes to understanding others, it can be difficult to relate to experiences you’ve never had. And these checklist approaches to teaching people how to interact with others from different backgrounds make it easy to get through the training without really paying attention. With that in mind, Praxis Labs launched Pivotal Experiences, an educational tool that leverages virtual reality to create a more immersive approach to diversity and inclusion training. Rather than read or listen to an outside perspective of what it’s like to face bias and discrimination, participants instead get a chance to experience it firsthand and learn how to respond in the moment. 

“By providing perspective-taking and immersive experiences that build empathy, we’re helping to build understanding,” said Elise Smith, co-founder and chief executive of Praxis Labs in a Washington Post article. “By providing opportunities to practice interventions, we’re helping to change how people actually act in the workplace.”

Each month employees of a participating company are assigned an avatar that is facing a specific issue that commonly impacts the workplace, such as implicit bias, ageism, racism or another form of discrimination. The avatar could be someone who is directly affected by the scenario or a bystander who is overhearing the discrimination take place. Responding out loud as if they were really there, employees are required to select a response to a given prompt that they believe best fits how they would approach the situation. Software then analyzes their choice and offers a perspective on how to best deal with the scenario in future instances. 

While such VR-based training likely won’t solve everything, it’s an important step in the right direction. It could even be a huge opportunity for the healthcare industry considering the recent, renewed conversations on race and discrimination. And given the exacerbation of health inequalities and disparities for minority populations since the start of the pandemic, this couldn’t have come at a more ideal time. 

With a tool such as this one, imagine the possibilities for creating empathy training for HCPs, where they get to step into the shoes of their patients. Or what this could mean for clinical trial recruitment as sponsor sites hope to establish roots in underserved communities. It might even bring something new to healthcare marketers who are often the ones developing communications that speak to populations of people they aren’t always a part of. 

As more and more organizations look to what’s next and how to make a difference in the lives of others, incorporating tech-based tools and trainings such as this could lead our industry to truly being a catalyst for meaningful change.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.