Bloomberg recently reported women earn 51% less than men over a 15 year time span. The headlines from the 1960’s and 2018 look sadly the same. Women continue to feel alienated and under appreciated for their contribution. It is having a negative impact on employee engagement and companies are suffering because of the lack of understanding about how to harness the power of diversity.

Case in point, the women at Google were so fed up they organized a global walk-out.  In the aftermath of the walkout as reported last month by the New York Times, demands were made to address issues at a policy level, putting the executive team and the board on notice that they are accountable for the behavior in their organization. This demand put pressure on Google to create conditions where employees can work together without fear of being harrassed or suppressed.

While hopefully new policies will ensure blatant miscarriages of justice won’t happen again, I expect another outcome most people look forward to is to be able to work in emotionally healthy and productive work environments.  Where the culture is receptive to diversity.  Harnessing diversity creates better business ideas and solutions. In today’s divisive environment, it is becoming increasingly evident that organizations must create a space where being diverse can be explored bravely and productively!  

Facilitating those brave conversations while understanding how vulnerable that space feels for people to hang out in is the challenge.  It is the key to creating the healing necessary to remove divisions and move forward productively. In this time of technology we have found a way to make that happen.  

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is one of a handful of exciting new tools being used in modern psychology to overcome phobias and trauma such as PTSD. It works by creating controlled environments where the individual can experience something provocative but still have agency in that environment to move around safely.

Similarly, Spirit Tree Consulting has created a workshop that explores the issues of gender equity and inclusion using virtual reality.  Essentially creating a controlled environment where groups of people can experience what can feel provocative, safely.

The Experience

The Award winning, Virtual Reality film is called UTURN and it addresses issues of gender equity, by exploring in a 360 degree environment what it feels like to be both a young woman technologist in a start-up company or turn your head and become her white male boss.  What is distinct about this VR is its use of two interactive story lines, and the ability of the viewer to be at choice about where they want to be in the film. Like life, our choices direct us in one direction, missing out on what is happening behind us.  Exploring why we choose to look in one direction vs. another provides an opportunity to explore unconscious motivation/bias.

The Workshop                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

The workshop delves deeply into what makes the characters in the film act the way they do.  What circumstances are playing into their actions, what causes of stress may be occurring and what bias is entering into how they handle a situation.  

In the workshop we explore what would make a difference in changing the “drama cycle” (Karpman).  In each workshop this question brought out interesting responses that both validated the experience of the obvious target, and created awareness and even sympathy for less likely victims.

The situation that each character faced had an ethical or consequential dilemma.  By exploring that dilemma we learned that each character was acting in self-preservation mode.  They were demonstrating survival behavior.

Having an immersive experience, helped each person in the workshop become more self-aware of their own assumptions, and behaviors. They became open to listening to each other.  Virtual reality created an environment where the group bravely explored areas of conflict, disbelief, and even unbending beliefs with curiosity and empathy. It created the desire to make positive change.

From this place of shared learning and empathy, it is much easier to begin to have conversations about “what really happens here” in their own workplace environments.  It becomes both diagnostic, and problem solving. In this workshop we have created receptivity to explore hard topics with the mutual expectation of making the outcome better for all.

Stanford Study

Prior to creating the workshop, the film was studied by Dr. Tanja Aitamurto at Stanford University to understand the effect VR might have on unconscious bias and equity and inclusion. The user study had many interesting outcomes but the most significant that differentiates this experience from other types were the following:

After viewing the film:

  1. Both men and women had a higher desire to monitor ones “self’ and others” behaviors for gender biases
  2. Both men and women had a higher sense of personal responsibility to advance Gender Equity at work  

-Quote: “When the experience began, I chose the male point of view …I have been fed up with the “good old boys” network since my college days but never really put myself their shoes.  I am by no means making excuses for them or the system but am better understanding how situations, such as the one in Uturn, can arise from lack of education and oblivion. This all makes U Turn such an important experience!  “ by Lesley, a female viewer


Organizations that offer this workshop are not checking boxes.  They are interested in real culture change that goes beyond gender equity, but equity for all who are oppressed and suppressed in organizations.  The workshop provides a first step to raising the issues, creating a preliminary diagnosis of how people feel about “what happens here” and a pathway to create a culture of cooperation and trust.  In the current competitive climate, organizations need to maximize their investment in diverse talent, and create organizational cultures where that diversity is valued for the competitive edge it offers.

In summary, it is very important that organizations create the systems and policies that ensure everyone in a company has equity.  We then need to provide the conditions for learning that ensure the people in the organizations learn how to work together productively, and care about each other as humans.

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