An Introduction to Virtual Reality for DE&I Professionals

Matthew honestly thought he was a great manager.

He’d practically grown up in his family’s steel business and had risen through the ranks when he started working there after college. HIs entire life he’d been good-looking, athletic, and popular, and people listened to him whenever he spoke. When employees mentioned to him that they were being ignored, or spoken over, or left out, he felt some sympathy but couldn’t relate, and could only offer the same old advice about speaking up more.

Then Matthew put on a VR headset.

For the next eight minutes, he found himself in a position he’d never been in before — the odd one out. His colleagues ignored him and interrupted him, or dismissed his ideas out of hand. His boss offered him the same contradictory advice he’d been offering his team; only this time, he knew what it felt like to get that advice that he had been doling out, and have it land all wrong. And then he had to go back and tell his team that all their hard work had been for nothing.

I watched as Matthew went through the experience and then took off the headset. He sat silently for a moment. Then he looked up.

“That wasn’t a conversation,” he said. “That was an emotional experience.”

The following week, Matthew started implementing changes in his workplace, including calling on equal numbers on men and women in meetings and stopping interruptions. His staff was thrilled, and he reported increased productivity and a decline in employee turnover. And he’s only one manager.

I start with this case study not to toot our own horn (Friends With Holograms built this piece, which went on to be used at many organizations and win a Top HR Product award from HR Executive) but to show just how effective VR training can be where other types of training are not. Matthew had done all the other training his company required — he read the books and watched the videos and showed up for workshops in good faith. And yet nothing moved the needle like VR.

What follows is a quick guide for DE&I professionals interested in starting their VR journey. We surveyed several folks in the field and came away with a set of commonly asked questions and objections, all of which we address below.

Isn’t VR just for gamers?

Nope! This is not to discount the talented people who make VR games, or dismiss the audience that plays them — but VR has many uses beyond gaming. Most major film festivals now include creative VR works and VR documentaries, and there are several VR wellness and meditation apps that have proven to be very effective. In enterprise, use cases for VR range from meetings and collaboration to hard skills training to soft skills and empathy training.

Is VR expensive? Does it require a lot of space and expertise to deploy?

While expensive is a relative term, a high quality VR headset now retails for $299, hardly a bank breaking expense. Not every employee will need their own headset, either. For soft skills training, most VR pieces don’t require movement, so can be done seated at a desk. Setting up a headset requires plugging it in, turning it on, connecting it to wifi, and starting a program — nothing more complicated than what you’d find with a new laptop or phone.

My team isn’t tech savvy — won’t VR scare them?

I promised my parents I wouldn’t share photos of them in headsets, otherwise I’d put them here. We’ve built successful VR experiences for child welfare workers, corporate managers, grocery store employees, and other folks with varying levels of expertise. A cornerstone of designing a great experience is designing for the least technical person in the room.

What we have works already!

If it really and truly does, good for you! But does it? Could your employee turnover be lower? Could your managers be better? Are there still persistent problems around bias and inequality?

A VR piece we built for child welfare workers cut the turnover rate of one organization from 50% to 19%, saving millions of dollars. The Air Force just released data showing VR training resulted in a 25% faster completion rate and a $100,000 per trainee cost savings. At Imperial Medical College in London, two groups were learning a procedure; the group that used VR to train was then able to complete the procedure in a lab with minimal guidance 83% of the time. The other group. Zero.

How do I know where to start?

First, identify the problem. A pilot can be a great way to enter the space with minimal risk. Then partner with an agency that can help walk you through the process step by step, from scripting to content creation to development. A good partner will work with your team to create a custom solution and be there step-by-step.

We hope this was a useful starting point for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to cortney@friendswithholograms.com.

Founder and CEO at Friends With Holograms. Adjunct at NYU. Bylines Billboard, Ad Week. Speaker. Ultrarunner in my spare time.