Unlocking empathy through the power of virtual reality

unlocking empathy

PwC UK’s innovative In My Shoes racial awareness intervention training is enhancing empathy and shifting unconscious bias by creating opportunities to step into someone else’s world.

In My Shoes

The admonition to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is a reminder to practise empathy. 

Thanks to the In My Shoes virtual reality (VR) racial awareness intervention training, PwC partners and staff in the United Kingdom have the chance to improve empathy and shift bias by stepping into someone else’s world. The training is designed to help participants strengthen their inclusive leadership skills, identify racial prejudice, more effectively empathise with others and become better advocates for diversity. 

While awareness alone does not change behaviour, evidence indicates that building empathy is a compelling motivator for change. In My Shoes leverages the power of VR and 3D desktop technology to help participants better understand and appreciate differences through an immersive experience that has them ‘become’ a digital version of someone from another racial group and experience how the world treats them differently. Participants are then asked to reflect on the emotions they felt and what they sensed about other characters’ behaviour towards them before identifying actions they can take to transform their own behaviours.

a person in a dark sky

“It's made me notice how my own team lead has been more inclusive since attending this training and now I know what has influenced his thoughts and behavior”

In My Shoes participant

Advancing racial equality is an issue that all of us must own. In My Shoes is designed to help people recognise unconscious racial bias in the workplace and ultimately influence change across the organisation. By putting individuals in the shoes of others, they can more easily spot discrimination, challenge prejudice and provoke empathy.

The results

People connect, understand and remember things more deeply when their emotions are involved. VR has proven to be an effective tool for learning and building empathy by creating a more embodied, first person experience. According to a PwC US report, “What does virtual reality and the metaverse mean for training,” VR learners were 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training, as they were four times more focused than e-learners and 3.75 times more emotionally connected to training utilising VR experiences.

In My Shoes is rolling out to all PwC UK partners and staff as part of continuous efforts to enhance inclusive skills and racial sensitivity through innovative awareness and learning methods. Tone at the top is a critical part of the change journey and to-date all senior leadership members have already completed the training, as have over half of the partnership (515). So far, feedback from participants is positive, with most acknowledging the powerful response the experience creates. Around 75% of the learners reported a “wake up” call moment during the training as well as 78% wanting more training to be introduced using this modality. Additionally, learners indicated that the debrief conversation, following the experience, is a critical step in helping them understand the impact of their actions and the need for them to be a part of the change.

For those of us who don’t have lived experience of racism we can never fully understand its impact. However, the intention of ‘In My Shoes’ is to help us improve our awareness and empathy to support others and equip us with the skills to challenge all forms of unconscious bias and racism. PwC UK’s delivery of this training has made its people more engaged in active, productive discussions on racial awareness. The result is sustainable practices that draw out the unique perspectives and contributions of their teams and build on differences effectively.

Virtual reality


Participant testimonials

“The training helps you understand that inadvertent actions can have a huge impact. Being inclusive requires a proactive, and not passive, style as a leader. We can all do more -- who we speak to, what interest we take, where we sit ….. small things really matter.”

“The material was sensitive and emotional. By far the most challenging learning course I've ever experienced in my time at PwC.”

“The VR experience was excellent at really putting you in the shoes of others and understanding the importance of your actions.”

“This training gave me the tools to challenge unacceptable behaviour when I see it.”

“The first person perspective had an immediate and compelling impact, enabling course participants to witness firsthand the experiences that some of our colleagues have encountered.”

You can contact Sarah Churchman, Director, PwC UK or Lesley Graham, Director, PwC UK to find out more about the VR In My Shoes programme.

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Sarah Churchman

Sarah Churchman

Chief Inclusion & Wellbeing Officer, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7730 733796

Lesley Graham

Lesley Graham

ESG People & Organisation, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 979926

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Aoife Flood

Aoife Flood

Senior Manager, Global Inclusion and Diversity, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Bradley Deckert

Bradley Deckert

Manager, Global Inclusion and Diversity, PwC US

Tuneet Bahi

Tuneet Bahi

Manager, Global Inclusion and Diversity, PwC United Kingdom