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? Every choice feels kinda wrong—even though you’re just seeing all this in a virtual-reality headset.
The discomfort is the point, says Morgan Mercer, founder of Vantage Point, the company behind the VR demonstration. Traditionally, on-the-job harassment training has been a choice between the lesser of two borings—schlocky video or snoozy slide deck—but Mercer wants to put you in the room.
She’s a survivor of sexual violence herself; she knows the subject can be hard to talk about. One night, at a dinner in late 2016, 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 VR could help. She taught herself basic programming, entered some hackathons, and within nine months had secured funding and signed up multiple partners.
That was the easy-ish part. The rest of Vantage Point’s plan involves making the simulations as immersive as possible. Mercer envisions an alternate script in which users practice reporting an incident. She also wants to add an interactive voice component, so users can literally speak up.
Not all the work happens inside the headset, though. When Mercer recently showed an HR professional an early demo, they pointed out that Rachel, the only woman in the scene, was the designated note-taker. “We’re over here excited to explore these power dynamics,” Mercer says, “and didn’t even realize there’s a level of bias built into the training plan.” They just needed another vantage point.