Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Web Secret 525: Virtual reality sexual harassment prevention training

I used to provide corporate training programs on sexual harassment prevention.

The typical audience for one of these training events was at best bored and at worst overtly hostile. The higher the ratio of men to women in the room, the more hostile the group. But I still think I did a good job.

I divided everyone in the room into teams of two. I provided the pairs with 10 vignettes which they had to discuss and decide whether the behavior constituted sexual harassment. This task rapidly defused the anger and made everyone think about harassment - maybe for the first time. After a set amount of time, I brought everybody back together and we discussed each vignette, calling on the teams to share their decision making process and their answers. It was consciousness raising for the participants.

But that type of training is labor intensive and expensive. And quite frankly, not typical of the average training. Most programs are didactic affairs where a lawyer stands in front of a group of co-workers and drones on about case law.

There had to be a better way, and to accomplish that, Morgan Mercer, founded Vantage Point.

As detailed in a recent Wired article, Morgan was at a dinner party in late 2016, when the conversation turned to harassment. Everybody agreed on one point: People can’t identify it and don’t know when to step in. A few mornings later, she woke up with the idea that virtual reality (VR) could help. She taught herself basic programming, and within nine months had secured funding and signed up multiple partners.

The rest of Vantage Point’s plan involved making the simulations as immersive as possible. Here is a typical scenario:

Prepping for a big presentation is stressful, and your boss isn’t making it any better. He’s leering at your coworker Rachel in the middle of a meeting (!), asking if she’s bringing a date to the company dinner (!!). I mean, what do you do? Say something? Take it to HR? Talk to Rachel? The discomfort is the point.

Well done, Morgan.

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