DALLAS – Outside the PricewaterhouseCoopers office building in downtown Dallas, employees trickled through a bus decked out with VR headsets, touch-screen tablets and cameras all loaded with content aimed at helping them recognize their own unconscious biases.
The bus has been touring the nation since November 2018 as part of an effort called CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, launched by the consulting giant shortly after the highly publicized killing of one of its employees, Botham Jean. Las month was the first time the tour visited Jean’s home office.
“Unconscious biases are the little judgments we make about people, their ability, their character without knowing anything about them,” said CEO Action crew member Ryan Mosher.
The bus made 119 stops at companies that signed the CEO Action pledge to incorporate diversity and inclusion in the workplace in 2019, took a short break for the holidays and started up again on Jan. 2. It will make its way across Texas for about three weeks before setting up shop at the SXSW festival in Austin in March.
More than 900 CEOs across 85 industries have taken the campaign’s pledge, including those of Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Irving-based Kimberly Clark and McKesson.
With each stop, the CEO Action crew hopes to provide a sort of workplace training session on steroids. It’s one Mosher said sticks with employees longer than the traditional boardroom lecture.
“This is an opportunity for people to see that they have bias, because we all have bias,” said PwC managing partner Scott Moore, who sees bias as not only having a negative effect on people personally but also on decisionmaking in the workplace.
In the months following the launch of the campaign, PwC Chairman Tim Ryan wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Dallas Morning News explaining the need for business leaders to set an example when it comes to unconscious bias.
“As chief executives and business leaders, we may not have the power to stop tragedies like what happened to Bo from happening again,” he wrote. “However, we do have power and influence, and there is a lot we can do to address implicit bias in order to make our workplaces and communities more just, equitable and inclusive.”
Botham Jean, or Bo, was shot and killed in his home in September 2018 by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who said she mistook the apartment for her own. The killing was defended by Guyger’s attorneys in court last year as a tragic but innocent mistake. Critics nationwide, however, saw an unnecessarily forceful and racially motivated reaction from an off-duty white police officer.
Employees are able to use VR technology inside the bus to put themselves in the shoes of a black man whose neighbor has just called the cops on him without cause. In the immersive video, viewers finds themselves on the end of an interaction with a police officer that some may never experience.
After the interaction, stats from the Black Youth Project survey conducted by the University of Chicago flash across the screen, explaining that less than half of black youths trust police compared with a majority of white youths.
“Putting you in it the way this does with virtual reality … you can’t get that experience any other way,” Mosher said. “This stuff hits home for a lot of people.”