Unpacking Bias

Enterprise, Training / Education




VR - Standalone Headsets, VR - Tethered Headsets, WebVR

Unpacking Bias

Unpacking Bias

Remote delivery of immersive experiences about bias and inclusion

Unpacking Bias is an immersive journey focused on Bias and Inclusion, remotely delivered and closely codesigned with employees using real, lived experiences to ensure authentic and realistic responses and interventions.

Virtual Reality has been proven to enhance perspective-taking – the ability to look beyond your own point of view – and allows people to practice different behaviors in a psychologically safe environment. Like an unexpected fire drill, it allows learners to face uncomfortable yet everyday situations. Participants are given an opportunity to recognize bias (and learn where they may have missed it) and make decisions on how to act and react. This creates an empathetic learning experience, and an opportunity to become better allies.

This case study details the making of Unpacking Bias, a world-leading immersive experience.


Inspired by Black Lives Matter, ViacomCBS wanted to deepen awareness and understanding of others’ experiences that may be different than one’s own and demonstrate how to be an ally.


Experiential learning is best, but traditional eLearning isn’t experiential.

COVID means:
– In-person experiences are not feasible
– VR headsets cannot be shared


Simulation technology that can be delivered remotely to those working from home, using existing technology. Makes use of embodiment techniques and interactive features.

Web-based VR Simulations blended with facilitator-led Zoom Workshops. Launched as part of ViacomCBS’s Inclusion week.

Project brief

– The purpose of this project is to deepen awareness and understanding of others’ experiences that may be different than one’s own, and consideration of how to be an ally.
– Create a shared and immersive experience that will result in honest and vulnerable conversations around bias and inclusion.
– Activate subsequent learning and application
– This is an initiative to form part of a greater Diversity and Inclusion initiative, that starts with the Diversity and Inclusion Week, and leads to integration into online learning on-demand. A piece of interactive content that drives engagement, and impacts staff.

Co-design: Creating an Authentic and Relevant Experience

Co-design creates authentic lived experiences that challenge power structures and privilege. As a tool for inclusion and diversity, it is powerful and creative.

Taking a co-design, or participatory approach means that each immersive solution is co-created with people who have a vested interest in the product itself, in this case, employees at ViacomCBS and particularly those employees who represent a variety of different groups. This approach is based on the premise that users are the experts in their own experience and are fundamental to the design process.

This participatory approach acknowledges a number of things: no matter how diverse your production team, you cannot possibly represent every single lived experience; a human-centered approach means taking the time to work closely with people in the organization with lived experience of bias; for experiences to feel real, relevant and authentic, the organizational ‘look and feel’ needs to be accurate (in this case ViacomCBS), and the wider context is significant to people’s understanding of the immersive experience. The moment in history that was unfolding at this time – the Black Lives Matter movement – was crucial to the development of the experience.

Equal Reality worked with the Office of Global Inclusion, Employee Resource Groups, Group Culture, Ad Sales, Learning and Marketing and Communications to understand the key issues that VR training would solve, but also involved them in the creation of the content from the development of storylines, character conception, to voice and scripting. Equal Reality closely collaborated with the ViacomCBS team at every step along the way. Their belief is that co-design not only allows more people to be a part of the process but it also creates a product with diversity and engagement at its core.

Co-design principles were used to gather data and consult with employees in various teams to:
– identify priority areas for learning
– understand the key issues people faced – the situations and contexts, plus language, tone, expression. It matters.
– translate people’s lived experience into the immersive experience and
– inform the innovative learning interface.

A variety of methodologies were used including data capture and survey feedback, consultation and engagement, story workshops, in-depth interviews, role play, group work, and online ideation.

Flatscreen: Innovating a new way of sharing experiences

The global COVID-19 pandemic has lead to changes to the way we work, especially more remote working from home, with people now familiar with Zoom/Google Hangouts/Teams and remote working tools.

It has also had an impact on how VR is perceived.

Fully immersive VR (‘getting in the headset’) has either not been possible (limited access to VR headsets) or has been undesirable (VR headsets perceived as COVID-19 risk)

The flatscreen approach solves this issue and also has positive implications for Quality / Timeline / Budget / Resources:
– It allows more perspective-taking than current e-learning
– It is more scalable = lower cost per participant
– Equivalency production costs

Head-Mounted Display (HMD)
Normally Equal Reality’s Virtual Reality experiences are typically run using Oculus Quest headsets. These are fully immersive experiences, taking advantage of the power of virtual reality to create embodiment to drive empathy, memory retention, and behavior change.

Flatscreen Display (Flatscreen)
Equal Reality needed flatscreen experiences for people to use the simulations in their browsers while working from home and taking part in a Zoom workshop. Their flatscreen experiences lean on the techniques used in VR to create embodiment and drive empathy but allow for use on laptops, phones, or tablets, without a virtual reality headset. This can be good for distributed teams and/or scaling to a large amount of users.

Equal Reality took their design technique and embodiment learnings to structure immersive VR learning simulations, and applied them to their new flatscreen experience, Unpacking Bias – An Interactive Journey.


An Interactive Journey

Part 1: Welcome to the Team
Purpose: Empathy for Ethnicity and Gender.

Meet the team in a Zoom-style video call for your first day at work.

You experience and witness bias/discrimination. The user is to record the bias they recognize.

Part 2 : Exhausted
Purpose: Empathy for Ethnicity, LGBT+ especially inclusion/exclusion, physical space, bias.

Meet your team in person on-site for the first time.

You experience navigating more bias/discrimination. The user is to record the bias they recognize.

How does it make you feel?

Part 3: Step in, Step up
Purpose: Practicing allyship.

You play the same scenario from a different perspective as a different character. This time you are a manager who can make decisions to make a situation more inclusive (or not).

How can you be an ally?

Success with world class results

“It’s really eye-opening to be able to experience some of these scenarios firsthand.”

– ViacomCBS Employee

“I hope this session (or one like it) becomes required watching for all employees”

– ViacomCBS Employee

“All of the simulations were based on real experiences at ViacomCBS, which made the workshop even more valuable and necessary.”

– ViacomCBS Employee

What did users say?

On Perspective Taking
People value realism, authenticity, and seeing the world from a different lens to their own. They said:
– “It’s really eye-opening to be able to experience some of these scenarios firsthand. I think it was particularly insightful in watching the bystanders and realizing how they can and should step up to be an ally”
– “The experience of being in someone else’s point of view was impactful”
– “Seeing realistic situations that play out all the time in the office”
– “Became more aware of other’s experiences”
– “The most valuable aspect was seeing the world and experiences from someone else’s point of view”
– “Further awareness of a perspective other than mine”
– “Having the individual experience of the modules so we could each form our own thoughts before bringing them to the group. Also, experiencing bias through a virtual realm does really impact one as opposed to reading about it”
– “Education and experiencing situations from another Point Of View – being able to witness both points of view, from Devin and from David, gives you the insight to not only understand how Devin is feeling but see how you should react moving forward as an ally/as David. I think both are valuable POVs to grasp the full meaning of the exercise”
– “Empathy towards others. Creating relationships that allow for honest conversation”

On Authenticity
People either related firsthand or with familiarity to the experiences. They said:
– “The first simulation that was presented was INCREDIBLE. The question of “where are you from…no but where are you REALLY from” is a question I have received in the workplace (and in life) COUNTLESS amounts of times. I am glad that this session addressed it and that IT IS NOT OKAY to ask someone that”
– “The role play was interesting and the fact that it came from real-life examples, made it even more real and not hypothetical”
– “Really appreciated that there were applicable scenarios here informed by ViacomCBS employees. And also appreciated talking with other colleagues – there needs to be more of this!”
– “All of the simulations were based on real experiences at ViacomCBS, which made the workshop even more valuable and necessary.”
– “More and more, education is vital. When you educate yourself you realize what is wrong, what is bias, what is unfair. The more I educate myself, and the more ViacomCbs gives me the resources to educate, I feel it will make a huge impact across the board. I’ve noticed that simulations, where i see real-life experiences, have been most impactful for me”

On Biases
People learn through appreciating and acting on their biases in a psychologically safe environment. They said:
– “Don’t assume when it comes down to co-workers. Make the effort to learn more about your co-workers to help make them feel included”
– “Appreciate that it hit on a variety of types of bias”
– “Highlighting micro-aggressions that many do not recognize”
– “How to be an active ally and recognizing biases”
– “Being aware of my own biases and realize that you CAN change and improve”
– “Should be mandatory for all employees – one thing that stood out to me was just asking where someone went to school and someone brought up that the person being asked may not have gone to college and maybe uncomfortable by that question. I had never thought about that before and I think the others could also benefit from knowing that information”
– “I am trying to become a stronger ally, and this course really helped me to recognize things that I may not have noticed before”

On Allyship
The value of allyship, practical approaches, and a chance to try them out in the immersive experience. They said:
– “The value of speaking up. It’s important to call things out as they’re happening so that people don’t feel excluded”
– “Better understanding and reminder of being a true ally vs. an accomplice”
– “To actively be an ally to someone by speaking up rather than just let a situation pass by unacknowledged”
– “Need for more allies to speak out; Recognizing bias or unconscious bias in the workplace; the importance of the company to create a safe culture and bias training for all employees, especially managers”
– “Speak up, intervene, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable”
– “Don’t be afraid to speak up, even when you are not sure. I believe it is okay to make mistakes as long as you are in the mindset to learn, acknowledge, and listen”
– “Making sure to stand up for others in uncomfortable situations or point out when someone’s doing something wrong”
– “Being more mindful and less defensive when being called out on bias or assumptions”
– “With all this D&I training I feel more empowered to step up and say something if I see something. I feel like I can be a stronger ally because the company wants me to be! I’d say keep up the good work!”
– “Manager awareness and sensitivity training. The session demonstrated the overwhelming control that the manager or person in power can dictate over their employees and situations they oversee. Ensuring that managers can set the tone, defuse insensitive situations, and support ALL employees, and not just some, in paramount in making employees feel heard, seen, understood, and comfortable. Managers set the tone. Employees will match the tone. Managers need to use their power to empower their employees, thus unlocking potential in them”
– “Think practicing how to make these interventions is really important b/c it doesn’t happen naturally and people hate to feel awkward or as if they might be making it worse”

On the Workshop Format
Human connectivity after the immersive experience was critical. They said:
– “Being able to connect with people from my corporation around “difficult” topics and having the safe space to speak freely”
– “Frank and open discussion by the participants showed a willingness to grow and learn”
– “To really be in someone else’s shoes. The conversation afterwards – hearing other peoples thoughts and reaction”
– “Interactivity and seeing different outcomes”
– “I liked the ability to try different options”

Final Thoughts
People wanted this to be scaled out to drive Inclusion. They said:
– “I think this should be a required activity for every ViacomCBS employee at all levels to participate in. There are Davids and Michaels at the company – and they should learn how they make others feel since they may not be aware”
– “Keep this kind of trainings coming – I think they’re really helpful”
– “Encourage others to take this session…very impactful”
– “I hope this session (or one like it) becomes required watching for all employees”
– “We need to start being more mindful of EVERYONE”
– “I think encouraging managers to get to know their teams a bit more on a deeper level. This gives individuals the chance to get to know their supervisors but also learn about their experiences. Also stressing to employees that it’s okay to be uncomfortable and question things. It’s not a personal attack, we all need to be aware of our mistakes”
– “I think it should be mandatory for all new hires to receive this training, and I also would hope it be mandatory for all ViacomCBS employees each year or so”
– “Making this training mandatory”

Next Steps

– Incorporate simulations into an immersive learning program that can be done on demand.
– Port to Oculus Quest, for even more immersive learning

COMPANY: Equal Reality

By | October 21, 2021

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