Domain Group has given all of its staff immersive, virtual reality experiences of being excluded and bullied in a bid to boost employees\u2019 sense of belonging at the company.\nTwo minute-long scenarios played out in the VR; one in which an employee experiences being left out of a conversation and has to ask to be included, and another in which an employee is intimidated and their personal space encroached upon.\nThe scenarios were realised by start-up Equal Reality based on scripts for the situations developed with Domain. The VR formed part of a wider diversity and inclusion training program, delivered by agency Making Work Absolutely Human (mwah).\nWith around 700 Domain employees having received the training this year, it is understood to be one of the biggest VR training initiatives in Australia.\n\u201cThe results were incredible. The VR was able to give everyone strong empathy and an emotional reaction to issues around bullying and power,\u201d Equal Reality co-founder Rick Martin told CIO Australia.\n \n\u201cIt gave them an experience most wouldn\u2019t have otherwise \u2013 it showed them not just what it was, but how it felt. It\u2019s a scenario they couldn\u2019t have had in any other form,\u201d he added.\n \nVirtual reality\u2019s ability to put people in the shoes of another has been used to great effect ever since the technology became readily available and affordable. VR has been dubbed \u201cthe ultimate empathy machine\u201d, but only recently have quantitative studies borne this out.\n \nIn Domain\u2019s case, some 75 per cent of users reported feeling uncomfortable with how close a virtual person was standing to them in the immersive experience.\n \n\u201cYou have a physical reaction on an unconscious level as well as a conscious level to this virtual character, and it\u2019s berating and bullying you,\u201d Martin said.\n \nClose to nine in ten employees said the VR experience made them more receptive to the proceeding workshop, while nearly all (98 per cent) said afterwards that they now understood their personal role in diversity and inclusion.\n \nFor diversity trainers, VR is a teaching tool unrivalled in its effectiveness at evoking empathy, said Mwah CEO Rhonda Brighton-Hall.\n \n\u201cBeing open to diversity is not just something to learn. It\u2019s something you \u2018feel\u2019. [Many of us] 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,\u201d she said.\n \n\u201cSo, 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 \u2018feel\u2019 it. And that\u2019s virtual reality,\u201d Brighton-Hall added.\n \nFollowing the full training course at Domain, some 93 per cent of participants believed the company was fully committed to diversity and inclusion. Nearly all enjoyed the course.\n \n\u201cThe response from participants has been excellent \u2013 with participants in the program able to empathise and discuss the experiences of our scenarios in our workshops with detail that just wouldn't be possible without actually experiencing it themselves,\u201d said Nic Barry, organisational capability lead at Domain Group.\n\u201cI don't think role plays will ever cut it again in this space," he added.\n \nEqual Reality \u2013 which in July received the backing of Optus as part of the telco\u2019s Future Makers accelerator \u2013 says it is now working with one of the big Four banks on a similar roll-out.\n \nLate last year the start-up developed a VR experience for the Royal Australian Navy around unacceptable behaviour and bias.\n \n\u201cWe\u2019re finding companies and organisations are sick of doing the same thing, so let\u2019s do it differently. It\u2019s like a fire drill for social reaction,\u201d Martin said.