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The betterverse: can the metaverse help shape a more inclusive ad industry?

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

January 19, 2022 | 8 min read

With more and more companies moving into the metaverse, employers would be wise to consider how they can operate equitably within it. But what DE&I practices would need to be implemented in order to shape a more inclusive ad industry? We take a look as part of The Drum’s Metaverse Deep Dive.

Metaverse

Can the metaverse ever be a safe professional space for people from marginalized backgrounds?

In the world of the metaverse, functions such as VR chat and avatars can enable users to present in any way they wish, from the way they look to the way they speak.

On the surface, this could be a great leveler for employers using the platform to recruit and hire without bias, but it remains to be seen whether conducting interviews within the metaverse could really mitigate issues of discrimination in the process.

Regan Gross, knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), says that the allure of things like avatars is the freedom they provide to candidates to choose characteristics that are truly reflective of how they identify or wish to be seen. “Thereby, creating both greater representation and acceptance of diversity in the employment realm.

“The choice of avatar features varies by platform, but in an ideal scenario, users can create customized avatars to show their skin tone, identity as LGBTQ+, status as differently-abled, religious dress and or grooming practices, or simply if they prefer, alternative clothing and hairstyles.”

However, Gross highlights that this requires a certain amount of responsibility on behalf of platform builders, as well as openness on the part of the employer as a customer when it comes to deciding on what avatar customization features are available.

“For example, does a job fair only allow attendees to choose from a limited, few, professional avatars in a variety of skin tones? Or do they allow the job fair attendees to enter with avatars they’ve created from other realms or microverses, such as social, communities or gaming?”

Gross also has concerns over whether the inherently ‘visual’ nature of avatars could mimic real-world issues of employers discriminating before a job candidate even has the opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

“If we hold employers accountable in their metaverse interactions, and as they become more accustomed to differences in appearances, we could see an eventual reduction in discrimination and increase in diverse recruiting.”

Accessibility

Paul Wells, the director of wellbeing services and culture change at Nabs, says that when it comes to hiring through the metaverse, regulations around fairness and discrimination in interviews would need to apply as they would in real life – and with some extra considerations.

“A main concern would be that metaverse platforms will not be accessible to all. Cost and factors around disability could be two of the barriers to people accessing the metaverse. So if you’re conducting interviews in the metaverse, you would still need to offer other accessible interview options – such as Zoom or in-person – so that people of all backgrounds could be considered for the role.

“With the metaverse itself, should somebody choose to be interviewed on this platform, it would be incumbent upon employers to ensure that the technology supported the needs of those using it.”

Gross also heeds that factors such as cost and usability for differently-abled people are to be carefully considered at any stage of the hiring process. “Marketers and employers should also make sure that diverse individuals have access to the technology they use, or provide a secondary medium for low-income, differently-abled and diverse individuals.

“Currently, some platforms in the metaverse require somewhat costly VR technology while others only require a computer and the internet. Keep this in mind when hosting virtual job fairs in the metaverse, by providing VR kiosks, for example.”

Remote working

With the trend towards hybrid and remote working continuing due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many employers are considering whether the metaverse could enhance the experience of working from home. Gross believes it can only help workers’ experiences, as well as give bosses another measure of productivity.

“The metaverse gives us another way to connect socially. We’ve seen what we can accomplish with Zoom, Teams and Slack; all of these social connections help to build trust and accountability in remote working relationships.

“CEOs like numbers. They need to be able to see revenue and productivity figures pre and post-remote work. Various technological advances like the metaverse facilitate connections and trust while they wait for revenue reports to roll in.”

However, Wells has concerns that equity issues present in the real world of work would simply be converted in the metaverse. “An important factor to consider here is the creation of VR as a safe space,” he says.

TimeTo, the campaign against sexual harassment in advertising and marketing, has found that hybrid working spaces have presented an opportunity for some perpetrators to continue their bad behavior. And TimeTo’s recent survey also found that sexual harassment has been presenting in different ways during remote and hybrid working (although incidents of sexual harassment altogether have been lower than pre-pandemic).

“Employers using VR in any way would need to regulate these spaces in the same way as their other work spaces to ensure that they remained safe, and that any harassment taking place in them would be dealt with using TimeTo’s zero tolerance guidelines,” says Wells.

Overall, while the potential of the metaverse is “boundless when it comes to representation of marginalized community members” says Gross, there remain concerns over how the technology could be most effectively implemented and not simply replicate the issues of its real-world counterpart.

“Too many of those in marginalized communities face challenges in our industry, from emotional health issues to barriers to job progression,” says Wells.

“One of the many contributing factors here is a lack of relatable role models for those from diverse backgrounds in our industry. It is a possibility that the metaverse could enable a wider range of candidates to work in our industry. What’s more, VR spaces could potentially offer those from marginalized spaces somewhere where they can more easily connect and express themselves than in the traditional office.”

However, as the technology is currently very expensive, the cost could simply add another barrier to those from diverse backgrounds hoping to work in the industry.

“Any introduction of VR into working practices would need to be managed carefully, with employers responsible for ensuring that all employees were included equitably in the company whether they were working in VR or in real life,” Wells concludes.

For more on the exciting new opportunities for marketers in this rapidly evolving space, check out The Drum’s Metaverse hub.

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