A year ago, we were approached by a relatively unknown virtual reality company – Equal Reality. At the time, we were also, as a business, in our infancy.
Equal Reality had been sent in mwah.’s direction as a source of a very deep and different way to tackle diversity, inclusion, empathy, and belonging.
We went along pretty bloody excited that the uber cool techie kids wanted to talk to us.
In those few hours we spent together, we all got a surprise.
Firstly, we strapped on the VR headsets. Minds blown! Virtual Reality has come an awfully long way since it was just a game. It feels so real.
Secondly, Annie, Rick and Brennan (the Equal Reality Founders) had a very different ambition than most techie people. They were designing a company that would use virtual reality to allow people to walk in someone else’s shoes. In short, they were building Equal Reality to help make workplaces more open to inclusivity.
Thirdly, we were able to really talk about diversity and inclusion, in a super gritty, granular way. Instead of sweeping platitudes and over-generalisations, it was a meeting of minds around micro-behaviours, empathy, marginalisation, personal responsibility, and the potential to fundamentally change the way people work together.
Finally, as a bonus, we discovered that one of us and two of them are from Wollongong. There’s something very real about kids who grew up in The Gong. We speak straight. We get diversity – we grew up next to the ‘Migrant Centres’ and Steelworks – where generations of ‘new Australians’ touched down and got started. Diversity is not a politically correct theory, it’s the reality you live every day.
For a year, we swapped ideas, generously and enthusiastically contributing bits and pieces to each other’s work and thinking.
Equal Reality’s virtual reality strengthened and grew more detailed.
Mwah.’s creative approach continued to challenge the way we think about leadership, culture, diversity, inclusion, learning and, well, work!
Both companies pushed the boundaries around what was possible.
Both companies grew and started getting noticed.
And then, finally, we got that one essential ingredient to complete the perfect triangle – a partner who was up for a very different approach to talking about diversity, inclusion, belonging and culture.
That partner came in the form of the newly listed Domain.
They wanted to shift the discussion on diversity and inclusion to one that ensured it was foundational to their culture as a new company. They wanted to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to set a new baseline.
Part of the Domain DNA.
So, we’re way down the track on this now, and while work in D&I is never ‘finished’, we can start talking about how its looking.
The top-line summary – it’s doing exactly what we’ve long thought it could do – and that is to fundamentally change the whole conversation.
It moves diversity and inclusion from a ‘concept to debate’, to a ‘feeling of we all need to be our best’. To feel we are included.
So, let’s hit the key points.
We’ve long thought that the approach to diversity and inclusion could go so much further.
Being open to diversity is not just something to learn. It’s something you ‘feel’.
It’s not a surprise that the team at ER and many of the mwah. team have seen (and felt) exclusion and bullying up close. You never forget that emotion. That frustration. Being marginalised. Minimalised. Dismissed. Unable to find your voice.
When you come back from that, you vow ‘not on my watch will anyone feel like that’.
So, how do you ‘get’ people to understand that feeling?
Tell stories? Sure. For people who will listen, listening to others is a great place to start.
Even better is to get people to someone ‘feel’ it.
And that’s virtual reality.
Every participant went through those minute-long exercises.
They jump back, step away, they gasp, they try to find their voice, they ask to be included, and when dismissed, they physically shrink.
And when they can’t do any of those things – the learning sticks and the real conversations begins.
From these experiences, we then move into a facilitated conversation, fuelled by their deeper visceral understanding of being excluded and diminished.
Instead of the theories of neuroscience and unconscious bias and a fascination with vicarious liability (let’s face it, although all are interesting topics, none truly change behaviour) we talk about how it feels. And from that, our mutual opportunity and personal responsibility to create inclusion and even belonging, around us, next to us, and between us.*
This is not a theory, but a reality. We all want to be included. We all want our uniqueness to be accepted within the realms of diversity. And none of us want to feel diminished or marginalised.
What if we all, just for a moment, understood that fundamental human right – to belong – at a very deep and personal level, and confidently stepped up into own our role in creating that feeling of belonging for every other person we work with.
Wouldn’t that change work. For all of us.
*for those of you, like us, who are geeks about the impact of learning, mwah., Equal Reality and Domain have been measuring every inch of this journey. The pre-workshop, the within-workshop and the post-workshop. We look forward to bringing you the stats – the impact – on this and three other similar projects, very soon.