Fostering inclusive conversations

By Mina Rozenshine
VP People, Strivr

As diversity, equity, and inclusion take center stage in our society, we face a challenge in how to create a better world. Do people have to unlearn behaviors that are not inclusive? Is that even possible? The science of how people learn – and unlearn – is incredibly important to this discussion. Even as we focus the conversation on a business setting, cognitive science may help to shine a light on the path forward for corporate leaders.

The science of learning and unlearning

Research indicates that unlearning requires fundamental changes in people – in other words, changing hearts and minds. This is likely due to the way the brain ‘protects’ the learning of complex behaviors, such as the non-inclusive behaviors that are learned over the lifetime of an individual. Unlearning would require creating new reward patterns between what a person observes and how he or she decides if the behavior is inclusive or not.

In a business setting, unlearning is not the first step. While changing hearts and minds may be a long-term goal, the near-term need for corporate leaders is to take the first steps toward more inclusive work environments. This means focusing on building awareness of non-inclusive behaviors and the ability to correctly identify them before making an appropriate response. From a cognitive perspective, this means learning to pair the same non-inclusive behavior with a more strongly-rewarded associated action.

Taking the first steps

Immersive Learning provides a compelling and effective approach for learning new behaviors. Through the use of Virtual Reality, Immersive Learning offers experiential training in realistic simulations that mimic interactions employees will face in the workplace. This means that people learn using real-world inputs, which helps the learning transfer and stick. The simulations also provide a safe space to practice behaviors and self-reflect.

Based on our experience and research, we’ve developed a framework that lays out the behaviors that employees should learn in order to take the first steps towards a more inclusive workplace. The goal is not to completely erase the original learning, but rather to provide a stronger, alternative response through training.

A powerful medium to practice 

As humans, we feel inclusion and exclusion deeply. Try to remember a time when you were the victim of a hurtful comment, or said something that hurt someone else. How did it make you feel? How did you react? 

Through the power of presence in VR – the feeling that you’re actually in the scenario – you can get the physical, mental, and emotional practice navigating uncomfortable scenarios. We call it immersive inclusive conversation training. 

Marketing Executive Office African Male

It comes to life across three unique immersive experiences. First, you take the perspective of a bystander who witnesses a non-inclusive behavior. Then, you experience being the subject, then the initiator. The simulations are designed such that you cannot alter the initial non-inclusive behavior; we are assuming that these things will happen. We want to focus on building the skills to handle the conversations that follow by providing practice in those situations.

These skills include: 

  • Communication, to give and receive feedback with grace.
  • Active listening, to be fully engaged in the conversation.
  • Situational awareness, to recognize the emotions of others.
  • Initiative, to take action during uncomfortable situations.

We believe that a skills-based approach to inclusion training is the first step towards a more inclusive workplace.

The reward of inclusivity

Ultimately, the goal is to give people the confidence and ability to take the right action at the right time, and we can do that with Immersive Learning. By focusing on building skills and new behaviors rather than on unlearning, companies can open up thoughtful and inclusive conversations, and can begin to make legitimate inroads towards a more inclusive workplace. 

Inclusive workplace framework

Through our research and experience, these capabilities help foster a more inclusive workplace. Immersive Learning is especially powerful for practicing proper action and reaction in a safe space.

Become more self-aware
What is non-inclusive behavior?

Make good decisions
Do you know what the best next step is?

Receiving feedback with grace & self-monitoring for responses

Situational Awareness
Emotional recognition & impact on others

Identify Behavior
Can you identify the non-inclusive behavior?

Demonstrate proper action & reaction
Can you clearly and effectively take the next step?

Taking initiative
Choosing if and how to intervene when necessary