Could VR reduce workplace harassment?

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A growing number of organisations are ramping up their efforts to eliminate sexual harassment from their workplaces – however, one industry expert says employers may need to reconsider their approaches as most common methods are ineffective at best.

“Nearly all sexual harassment awareness training programs are classroom or computer-based,” says Todd Maddox, a leading industry analyst who applies behavioural and neuroscience research to improve training outcomes within the business world.

“They involve having individuals read text, or watch slideshows and videos that define sexual harassment and the behaviours that are appropriate or inappropriate,” he continues.

“They describe power differentials that often exist in government or the corporate world and how that impacts the appropriateness of interpersonal interactions. They might even include video interactions so that individuals can ‘see’ sexual harassment in action from a third-person perspective.”

However, Maddox – who is an analyst with Amalgam Insights – says a far more effective approach would be to utilise virtual reality in the training process.

“There is no better way for a middle-aged, Caucasian male to ‘feel’ the prejudice or sexual harassment that a young, female African-American might experience or to ‘feel’ the discrimination that many members of the LGBT community feel, than to put that man in a first-person VR environment where they are that other individual,” he says.

While traditional computer-based training does have some power to change behaviours, Maddoz says VR is more effective because it  has the ability to develop vital soft skills such as communication and empathy.

“Traditional computer based training should not be discarded but it focuses more on a sterile approach to knowledge,” he says. “Combined with the VR experience, workers will be able to feel it for themselves. That will make the learning more complete, and will ultimately pay dividends not only for the companies that implement it, but for society in general.”

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