How AI Avatars Can Help Make Workplaces More Inclusive

The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the economic inequities highlighted by COVID-19, have brought renewed attention to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Yet although studies show that diversity and inclusion can contribute to the success of high-performance teams, organizations can still struggle to build such teams. Organizations may set hiring goals for diversity, but hiring for diversity without considering inclusion can lead to negative consequences.

But how exactly does one promote inclusiveness in the workplace? Research by Alexandra Kalev and colleagues has shown that mandatory diversity training is generally ineffective. In fact, training that relies on negative messages, such as potential threats of lawsuits, can even be counterproductive. Instead of focusing on what situations to avoid, organizations need to consider what skills are conducive to diversity and inclusion, and implement training programs that actively develop and promote those skills.

Alelo has extensive experience in developing training for the skills that encourage diversity and inclusion, but in a different guise, namely cultural awareness training. We have developed cultural training programs called VCATs (Virtual Cultural Awareness Trainers) that prepare people for working in over ninety countries around the world. Over 130,000 people have trained with these courses, and the numbers have increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. These courses address certain key skills that are useful regardless of the culture of the country you plan to work in. These same skills can help employees to succeed in culturally diverse workplaces.

The most important and relevant skill addressed by VCATs and other Alelo courses is perspective-taking, the ability to understand a situation from the perspective of another person. Perspective-taking is complementary to emotional intelligence, but in some ways is more useful. Emotional intelligence can help you recognize that someone from a different background is offended or upset; perspective-taking helps you understand why so that you can address the issue and prevent it from recurring in the future.

AI-driven avatar-based learning is highly conducive to developing perspective-taking skills. Learners can practice interacting with avatars in simulations of real-life situations. They can observe how the avatar responds and reflect on how the avatar reacted and why. They can try expressing themselves in different ways, without fear of offending a real person. They can engage in active listening in an effort to understand the other person’s perspective. Avatar-based learning even allows you to play the role of the other person, to feel what it is really like to adopt that person’s perspective.

Alelo has implemented these ideas in the Alelo Workplace Coach. It lets learners practice interacting with avatar co-workers of different generations (Baby Boomers and Millennials), to understand how people with different backgrounds can view actions taken by their co-workers in different ways.

Alelo’s Enskill upskilling and reskilling platform makes avatar-based learning available to organizations around the world. We can create avatar-based scenarios based on real misunderstandings that can occur in the workplace. This prepares trainees to interact effectively and positively with co-workers, regardless of their background.

About The Author

Lewis Johnson

Dr. W. Lewis Johnson is President of Alelo and an internationally recognized expert in AI in education. He won DARPA’s Significant Technical Achievement Award and the I/ITSEC Serious Games Challenge, and was a finalist in XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling. He has been a past President of the International AI in Education Society, and was co-winner of the 2017 Autonomous Agents Influential Paper Award for his work in the field of pedagogical agents. He is regularly invited to speak at international conferences for distinguished organizations such as the National Science Foundation.

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