Why VR training may be the future of sexual harassment prevention in the workplace

Virtual reality can provide a new, immersive approach to sexual harassment prevention training. Read more to see if VR training might be a good fit for your company.

Video: Virtual reality ... in less than two minutes Wondering what's behind the resurgence in VR tech? Find out in less than two minutes!

According to a 2018 Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.org, 45% of women in technical fields report being sexually harassed at work, and 35% of women in corporate America say they have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers. Of the companies surveyed, 98% reported having sexual harassment policies in place, but only 32% of the women in these companies feel that inappropriate behavior is addressed quickly.

SEE: Sexual harassment policy (Tech Pro Research)

Current sexual harassment training techniques such as HR-led classes and computer-based training like slideshows, texts, and videos do not reduce incidents in the workplace, according to G2 Crowd. However, new technologies like virtual reality (VR) may yield better results. VR provides an immersive experience in which the user sees what it's like to witness and/or be a victim of sexual harassment, which increases user retention.

According to TrainingIndustry.com: "The immersive properties and rich, consistent contextual cues associated with VR improve the quality and speed of initial learning. One strength of VR is that it can be implemented in such a way as to target [both] the behavioral skills system and the cognitive skills system." Michael Casale, Chief Science Officer of STRIVR explains: "The experiences in VR will be much more like the ones experienced during real-life scenarios vs. computer-based or video. This means that when these behaviors are encountered in real life, you will be much more likely to transfer the learning from training to that real-life event."

Casale continues, "The reason is essentially a neuroscientific one--training with information that is less like the real world environment is essentially training brain circuits that won't be encountered in the real world meaning that little to no learning will transfer. In particular for [VR] training, experiencing the same set of emotional responses during training as would be experienced in the real world means that learning is much more likely to stick. This is based on decades of brain research on how emotion facilitates learning."

Vantage Point has developed VR technology specifically for sexual harassment prevention. The company was founded in 2017 by Morgan Mercer after she realized the inadequacy of commonly used sexual harassment training methods. According to the company's website, Mercer understood "the power VR could have in re-shaping the way the topic is approached and recognized the level of empowerment individuals could be given through training with the medium."

Mercer explains: "Immersive mediums are the next step which will create direct relationships and build empathy that transcends beyond any existing platform-based network. I can't tell you what it feels like to feel cold, or to feel hot, or to be uncomfortable, or to feel the elephant in the room. If you can actually feel the elephant in the room, and tie that feeling to an action you can take at that time, that's when training becomes impactful--when there is situational relevancy derived from personal context."

The Vantage Point VR training method works by taking into account contextual and hard-to-detect nuances of common sexual harassment situations. The program modules are designed for men and women and focus on identification of sexual harassment, changing stigmas and biases, bystander intervention, and real-time response training.

Vantage Point uses Oculus Go headsets, and one headset is recommended per 100 employees. While there is no public pricing available for the necessary Vantage Point sexual harassment training software, it is priced similarly to other non-VR, e-learning programs, according to the company; it also requires annual licensing fees. This setup is intended to make the transition into using VR as smooth as possible for companies. For more information about pricing, please contact the company.

SEE: Five ways your company can get business value out of virtual reality (ZDNet)

One of the obstacles VR adoption faces is cost; however, VR software and headsets have become more affordable. The market for augmented reality/VR software and hardware is growing--it is projected to reach $20.4 billion in 2019, according to International Data Corporation. VR has other use cases and is already being implemented in a variety of ways, which include: Employee training (including compliance and empathy-based training), architectural design, anatomy diagnostics, surgical training, logistics and package delivery management, virtual property tours, retail showcasing, and much more.

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Image: iStockphoto/Jacob Ammentorp Lund