Intro: Duration: (02:26)
Opening music jingle & sound effects
Hi everybody I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. In today's show, we will dive deep into how to address unconscious bias, microaggressions, and exclusionary behavior in the workplace, specifically using virtual reality.
My guest today is Myra LalDin who believes in the power of stories to create empathy, shape values, change behaviors, and share experiences. She grew up in Pakistan as a religious minority and attended an international boarding school. And in high school, she moved to Thailand. As one of the few Pakistanis in a very westernized school culture, she learned to be acutely aware of social and cultural dynamics.
And in college, she studied cross-cultural business management and later cognitive science and behavioral theory in grad school at Harvard University. Myra co-founded VECTRE a virtual reality development company that leverages the power of immersive technology and works with fortune 500 companies. Leveraging her knowledge of learning sciences and technology.
Myra then founded VR perspectives, which focuses on VR storytelling to shine a light on the hidden dynamics of the social world through immersive experiences. Myra serves on the boards of Designed by us, which is a Amazon nonprofit, the national small business association, leadership council, and as an XR subject matter expert at MIT.
In her spare time yeah, right. She likes drinking Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I think I feel a song coming on. Welcome Myra.
Thank you. Thank you. Well, my team wrote that bio, and I’m like wow that just covers everything I don't know if I have anything to talk about.
Oh, we have plenty to talk about. I am convinced of that and I'm really excited to have you on the show today.
Yeah. Excited to be on this is exciting. Yeah. Finally got it scheduled
Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Fish do not know water. (02:27)
After a number of different scheduling conflicts and we finally got it. So anyway, happy that you're here. And so Myra, before we jump into this topic, I'd love for you to share a little bit about your background. You know, I read all these interesting things in your bio and so share about that and maybe you can also share. What person or thing inspired you to ultimately end up as an entrepreneur in the XR space.
All right. That's a great question to start with. So my early childhood experience is in Northern Pakistan, growing up in environments where at one point I'd be in extreme marginalization and another extreme privilege. I think had a really large impact and done what I do today.
So my parents started about 37 years ago, started a hospital way up in the north of Pakistan there was no medical care. So they felt a calling to go start that. But because we were in such a remote area, there were no schools. Like readily available for us. So they sent us to a boarding school and this boarding school was a real mix of like American and British, like even curriculum and things, but for kids all around the world, but we were the only Pakistanis there.
So when I talk about extreme marginalization, my family is multiple generations of Christians. If you know anything about Pakistan, it's a very conservative Islamic country. And if you just Google Christians and Pakistan a range of things will come up of just the types of issues they are facing, like things around the blasphemy law. There's a lot of stories. I won't go into them, but basically, it's like religious minorities can have it pretty tough in Pakistan. My school for one was attacked by religious fundamentalists at one point with bombs, guns, all that stuff. So that's what I mean by it's not just like microaggressions.
It's like physical danger. It's actual violence. The full spectrum of daily micro stuff too, but then the actual violence too. So, extreme marginalization in terms of being a female in a very conservative Islamic country, being a religious minority. So feeling that on a daily basis, but then also this extreme privilege, I'm going to one of, I'd say one of the best schools in the world and that all the opportunity that brought me too. So, from an early age, I was constantly taken in and out of my water. And so David Foster Wallace has this saying, he says like a fish does not know water. So if you ask a fish, hey, how's the water. He'd be like, what the hell is water? Right. So because basically, our water is our norms, right?
Yeah. We’re constantly immersed in our norms and we don't know what they are until we're pulled out of them. So for some people, the first time even leaving their state, the norms might be a little different somewhere else or, for example, I grew up in Thailand.
We take off our shoes before we go into the house. Like, that might be weird. But it's just and I say, quote, unquote, weird, basically it's just different right? Like I said you only know your culture or your water, like once you're taken out of it and you have something else to compare it to.
So growing up with kids all around the world brought me in and out of that water constantly. Growing up with Koreans and Germans and Swiss, Americans, and just showed me the different norms. I think that really had an impact. One of my mentors recently said something to me that really stuck with me.
She said, because you've grown within so many cultures, you don't have a norm and that's why you can easily shift and adapt and learn to move effectively in different cultures and with different people. And that just really I was like, oh, that really resonated with me.
So, to get to, what inspired me, I think there are so many layers to it, but that's a big one of it. I had this rich, vibrant intercultural upbringing that helped me see the value of that. But also as I was brought into cultures and into situations in the US and, other places, um, that I saw the danger of a single story.
And what I mean by that is, especially in this cultural climate, we see something about a group of people. And then we just assume, or we see something about a single person, right? Like whatever a stereotype might be. And then we just assume that everyone in that group is the same. So we put a single story on that whole group. And this happens all over the world and it's just increasing as we like to silo ourselves. And we, we create bubbles, politically we have a story of the other side, religious, so I always think, stories are what so powerful stories at the individual level. Right.
And from research, it shows like working side by side and like more contact across groups, like lessens our biases because you get to see people at that for who they are as a person, right. The humanness. I know this person, and what happens is when you get there, the story at the individual level, you get empathy, you get to understand them.
When you see something that a whole story is being put on a whole group, you realize like, well, that person wasn't like that. Like I see the difference. Right. But when we don't have those individual stories, then we just, our brain just makes those like big assumptions. And travel is a great way.
To kind of break out of your bubble and stuff, but it's, for me, I've also found that, unless you're being really intentional about how you travel and meet different people, you can actually reinforce stereotypes more. We call this reinforced stereotypes, but superiority, we call it the Superman complex.
Like we saw this a lot when we see exchange students, from America go to Thailand, they would suddenly think that they're amazing because everyone wants to hang out with them and stuff like that. So I was trying to find how do I replicate this experience that I've had being able to grow up with people all around the world to get to know people at an individual level.
Not everyone has that opportunity that was extremely privileged for me to be able to grow up like that. So how do I break that divide? And to allow people to see from different perspectives? And the story is great for that. And you said that in my bio that I find the story extremely powerful, and I thought that I would be doing this through video games.
But when I found VR about seven years ago, I was like, wow. This is the best tool at our disposal for empathy, but also just for perspective-taking. And I was all I wanted to recreate in the world of like my experiences and be able to share stories of cut across these divides.
I thought VR is the greatest way to do it. And it's such an acute way to share a story and it's the quickest way to get that visceral response from people.
Topic 2. Virtual Reality (09:51)
And I've loved the perspective that you gave of the fish. And also just the concept of immersion, because when you are immersed in, as you have been in multiple cultures and environments, gives you a perspective that one can't get otherwise.
So now I'm really making the connection to the VR space and the immersion that can take place there. And how you sort of ended up leveraging that to help affect change. Right?
And I love that analogy that you're using, like your, how you're comparing the two immersions and water and stuff. Because what I, when people say, you know, I brought up the travel piece, it's not enough immersion.
Right. Cause you're still kind of out of it and you're just there temporarily, but you know, the way to, for real cross-cultural competency is like living there and being part of it truly immersed like you're saying. So that's why. Yeah. I love how you're connecting the two.
Topic 3. The true cost of not being inclusive. The leaky bucket problem. (10:53)
Let's shift to business for a minute.
I'd love for you to share your thoughts about what the true costs are to business. Businesses that don't have inclusive leaders. And the reason why this is so important is, businesses often pay obviously a very high degree of attention to financial performance and profitability. And that's only one aspect of the business, but it's vitally important for the health of the organization.
And so costs aren't always financial, but ultimately, that is what can affect change among leadership. And so I'd love for you to share from the perspective of both financial and non-financial costs to businesses that really are not doing well in this inclusivity space.
Yeah, the interesting thing is, it all impacts finance. It all does. So even at the emotional level, it's going to impact the engagement, motivation, and turnover rates. Which is going to impact you financially. So just in general, what is an inclusive leader? It's just a good leader. I think we'll talk about this later, but I even have issues with the fact that we talk about inclusive or diversity.
This just means like you're emotionally intelligent. You're socially aware. And that's what every leader should be, right? Culturally competent. And if you're not, your team will stagnate and why will that happen? The lack of psychological safety. If I don't feel safe in my team, if I don't feel like there's a space for me to take risks, then there won't be innovative creative problem-solving.
If I'm constantly on the lookout for this boss who is explosive and, or unkind, I'm not going to have this secure space to explore new ideas. So then now you're losing out. Let's think about the financial, you're losing out on innovation there.
Innovate or die basically. So that's one. The other is we talk about the leaky bucket problem. A lot of companies are like, this diversity inclusion stuff is huge. Like we need to have representation. So let's just keep dumping more marginalized communities or just, you know, get diverse candidates.
So you can keep dumping them in. But if the bucket at the bottom has a whole of, there's not an inclusive culture they won't stay. So you're just putting in tons of money, again, financial, you're spending tons of money to recruit and stuff, but you're not doing the work to keep them.
It becomes a check the box event. It sounds like instead of really creating sustainable change internally.
Right sustainable change. And then it's like check the box and you're losing money by doing it that way. It's just like, oh, this is a quick, band-aid. Also if you don't have an inclusive leader, then you're not going to get an inclusive mix of people.
You're not gonna get a diverse intercultural team. And what happens there is, we see that by 2055 the makeup of America is going to look very different, right? It's going to be much more diverse and you need to have on your team in order that you don't lose your market share your team needs to mirror your consumers.
For them to understand what is it that our consumers want. I was consulting for a team that basically was trying to create hair products or something for black women. And there was not one black person on the team, let alone a black woman, there wasn't even a black person on the team.
I was like, who are you creating for? So, you have to have the people you look at the market share. You're going to lose out if you don't have the people represented who are creating the products that understand the market. I mean, all of those are financial issues actually, but, but in general, we talk about in the Western culture, we've separated so much of emotion from the work, right.
Emotional, like how our mind works is like, no, those are so interrelated. And if we look at Damasio's work, it's when the part of the brain where emotion is, if that part is damaged, you cannot make decisions.
I love how you make the connection between the emotional component and, productivity and inclusivity, and effectiveness, and financial performance, because ultimately it is so connected and there are so many examples in the marketplace of well-run companies and what the common themes seem to be among them.
And I'm curious as to your perspective, It seems as though they almost all have a very clear and compelling vision and core purpose and core values, and they're communicated extremely well. And they build inclusive cultures, where there's a diversity of thought and opinion and people of all aspects, whether it's age, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, all of it.
And so, I mean, would you agree that's kind of where that core connection is made?
Yes. A hundred percent agree with what you just said, and when you're saying a large part of that is I bet that communication, what are our core values, our purpose, our vision is? Are we actually living it or is it just lip service?
Cause that's a big difference too, right? Is if we say these are our values. Then are we living it? And then that's where the feeling of true inclusion comes for a team as well. Like we're actually trying to live this out and when something isn't right. We have that psychological safety to bring it up.
We're constantly improving. We talk about the PSA, psychological safety, speak-up culture, and accountability, that is so important to have that in a culture to keep growing together. We bring that up a lot. When we do our training, we can teach everything that we can to this is how you should be inclusive and all that, but unless you have that environment and, unless you're living, according to the values that you say are important to your team, none of this will matter.
Topic 4. Using virtual reality to eradicate micro-behaviors and microaggressions in the workplace. (17:33)
I'm wondering if you can provide some examples of some common. Micro-behaviors microaggressions in the workplace.
So in our training, you're talking about the specific micro behaviors. Basically what we're trying to do is. These things happen around all the time. So examples are the leader walks into a room and doesn't even acknowledge you.
For example, if we're going to talk about gender, you might just walk over just to the male and just acknowledge them and have the conversation, not even make eye contact with you. Those are, that's a micro behavior.
Completely unseen and unheard.
Yes, you're just like, not even acknowledged. So a lot of it is actually body language, right? So crossing your arms when a certain person talks. And sometimes I cross my arms, if I'm cold, I'll cross my arms, but it's all in relation to what were the mini things that happened that got to that point, right.
Constantly talking over someone, and not acknowledging them. Saying someone's idea louder than the other person and then taking credit for it. Constantly asking the same person in a meeting to take notes. Now that person can't be fully engaged. Right? It's like, why is it always the youngest female being asked to take notes or just like questioning someone multiple times.
But when somebody else makes the same suggestion you go with it. So these are all small things. What we do in our virtual training, is you're fully immersed or the character, these things are happening every day in your life. But because you have not been attuned to them, you do not have the skills to be attuned to it yet.
You haven't noticed them. So we are making you, we're slowing it down. We're letting you look at an experience and shining a massive spotlight on the situation. So what that does is now people come out of these training and they come back and be like, well, I'm noticing so much more of what's happening in the workplace now, because we basically create a little template for you to notice these things.
And they'll be like, I didn't realize how much even the smallest thing can have such a big impact on my motivation for the day. The fact that through the scenario that he kept needing validation from my Coworker about any suggestion I said, they can feel that frustration.
Hey, why am I not good enough? Right. And if that happens on a daily basis, when you consolidate all that micro, all those microaggressions, like that really weighs heavy on you. But for someone who doesn't have to face those and their friend brings it up, like, Hey, did you see how he kept questioning me?
They’re like, dude sometimes clients just do that. They just want reassurance. Right? So for someone seeing it from the outside, they'll just say like, what's the big deal? It's a diminishment but they're not feeling that that effect. The constant microaggressions, right?
They're just seeing that little moment being like, Hey, what's the big deal? So when you go through virtual reality and you see again, and again, it piles up on you. You're like this really sucks.
It's almost like a cumulative, traumatic effect.
Exactly. Yeah. The accumulation is what gets you.
And then the VR portion, I guess if I understand it correctly. Allows you to put yourself into that person's shoes. So you can really feel what they feel is that correct?
Correct. Where you're getting to experience from their perspective. And, you know, so you might be Max who's a male, a black account manager.
And your coworkers with you chat, and you're seeing how you're being treated. Like you're being questioned about your school and things like that. And it's, it's done in a very nice way of like, oh, I'm trying to get to know you, like the client's asking you. And it's like, but why aren't you asking Chad?
So that's one thing that a lot of my white friends will actually bring up and be like, well there's nothing wrong with asking about the school. And totally, there's nothing wrong if you're having a conversation and it's, and everyone's part of that conversation, for example, in that scenario, there's a client, there's Chad, and there's Max your character.
And why are you being questioned constantly? If it's just a conversation, then ask Chad as well. Right. But in that situation, it seems like you're trying to get me to validate, to prove that I have a right to be here, that I have the education to be here.
Topic 5. Strategies to confront inappropriate behavior (22:18)
And so Myra when leaders see or others non-leader as individual contributors see inappropriate behavior in the workplace, what are some strategies for them to confront?
And I think so many people are hesitant because they either don't want to shame the other person, which is not a good excuse or they are conflict-averse. What are some strategies that they can deploy that will really help kind of solve, help solve this problem?
I wouldn't just randomly go on and, and address it actually. To me, you haven't created the culture for that to happen.
It's through the VR, but a lot of it, the VR is not the silver bullet. There's a lot of teaching that goes with it, right? So part of that is creating the environment of trust and creating the environment of, Hey, we're on the same page. We all want the same things. And you're basically creating new norms.
So what that does is, by us going through this training and saying, Hey, we've all decided that these are the behaviors that we're seeing in our or our organization. We don't want these to happen. We're all coming to an agreement. When these things happen, we want them, what I call called in instead of called-out I say called in. But what, what needs to happen first is creating that groundwork of trust, and, yes, we can call each other in when this happens.
That's interesting. So say a little bit more about the call-in. So, is that it's the inclusive method of that or?
Yeah. So it's, it's basically the way our framework is.
First, we're all going to agree on what are the behaviors we want to change. And then we say okay, how do we know that these behaviors are happening? So we call it the spot. I spot it. Right? So like, how will we know that they're happening? Someone's constantly talking over someone, this is what it feels like. This is what it looks like. Someone constantly takes credit for someone else's work. This is what it looks like. So what's happening is we're priming everyone's brain to start noticing it now. So like you said, people aren't aware, but by allowing us to all sit-down and talk about it very specifically about your own organization.
Now you're going to be hyper-aware you yourself, whether you're doing it and others. So one is the spot. Then we talk about the call-in. So the call-in for me here is it's important that you call it in, at the moment. So if you're calling someone out, it can feel shameful or it can be like putting them on the spot.
The way to call it in is. I want to encode it in your brain at the moment so that you can't really argue later, did it happen or not? So let's say if someone is, I'm gonna use the talking over example if someone is constantly talking over someone in a meeting. So Jeff looks like you're trying to say something and I just like, keep cutting you off someone else.
Let's say on the team, like Linda, for example, she could call it in. She can be like, oh, Myra, I think Jeff has been trying to say something, just that little bit, what it's going to do. Is it going to reinforce for me, hey, we've talked about these things and these things are now and I'm doing it right.
That's great. And it's a very simple approach, isn't it?
It's so simple. So many of these things are simple. I've thought about them and that's why they're simple. But what I mean to say is there are such easy changes. And if we have that culture of trust to do that with each other, it's so beautiful. Just the feedback that we're getting from people of this one man, who's 31 years an engineer in this company, one of the oldest companies in America, he has come back and been like, I went to my manager to apologize because I have been doing these things for the last years basically.
Wow. That's amazing. What an awareness.
Yeah. Well, and the way that we do it is a lot of these training make people feel defensive. Right. But because we do it in a way that's, Hey, what did you experience in this? You tell me what you experienced. What did it feel like? Have you experienced this?
It takes away the defensiveness
And the interesting thing about that too, is that when you describe the experience as something that a person owns and you can never take it away from them. So if I've experienced you doing something. You can't disagree with me because that's my experience.
Exactly, to the VR point too, because a lot of these things do start at the emotional level. So what, what the VR allows us, it allows you to go through it in someone else's shoes and to talk about the emotion that you felt like them, rather than your own emotion.
So a lot of these like engineers and P P companies come to me and be like, they'll never talk about emotion. And I was like oh just wait, they will. Because it has kind of given them an out. My questions are, what did you feel in Max's shoes? How did that feel being in Max’s shoes? And then it goes, then people are vulnerable because it's not them, but then it's building the trust over time and then they start talking about their own stories.
Topic 6. The importance of teamwork (27:20)
Well, and I just want to rewind to another thing you said, Myra, just briefly before we move on to some lightning round questions and it's really that. How important it is to take this as a team approach. So we're not going to be, we're not trying to affect change only at an individual level. We're being very proactive.
We're agreeing collectively on what sort of behaviors we're wanting to promote and what behaviors are inappropriate in an organization. And then we're really. Holding each other accountable with the same objective, right? We're ultimately going after the same objective.
We create inclusion manifesters we create all these tools that it's like, Hey, okay, now you can run with us.
For the team, we're trying to empower them. And so we all agreed to the inclusion manifesto. We sign it. So what it does is it's basically creating a norm of, Hey, this is what we said we wanted to act like. This is who we want to be. These are the behaviors. And when someone is not acting like that, it helps us to hold each other accountable to be like, Hey, remember we said, we, we all want to come back to this. So it lets you point back to that instead of just randomly calling people outside, no, we all agreed to this. And we all want to be part of this. So it's a team thing. That's how change occurs. We're social, we're social creatures, we're social learners and it needs to happen together.
Topic 7. Lighting round questions (28:43)
Well, let's shift into some lightning-round questions. The first one I have for you is what are you most grateful for?
I do like grateful things, as soon as I wake up every morning, so it could be as little as I love my bed. Like I just love bed just like the comfy nest and stuff, just being grateful.
Cause I have experienced the other side of that. Not having those things. So, right now at this moment, I'm in California, the weather is just amazing and the weather has such a huge impact on me. So right now I'm just so grateful for how beautiful California is.
It is a beautiful place, isn't it? It'd be hot today, out here in California, Myra.
Yeah. I feel it's going to get up to like 90 or more.
Yeah, it will. That's great. What's the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?
One of the greatest joys of being a leader for me is being able to empower my team. So just learning. What I'm learning as I scale. Being able to train people and then just be able to step back and let them like take it. Take the reins. It's so satisfying. It makes me very emotional because one it's taking away things off my plate, which I love. And then just being like, wow, to see where they were a year ago and where they are now it's such a joy.
Who's one person you would interview. If you could living or not?
DaVinci. I like to bring things from across different topics industries, just across disciplines and I think he was so talented in so many areas. Like he knew so many different things and he was able to, I hate the word synergize, but he would really do it across the board, you know? And I love that. I love that kind of brain. And that's also why I did not do a Ph.D. because it makes you go too deep into one tiny area,
Yeah, exactly. Do you have a top book recommendation?
Yes. This book is so great. It's the coaching habit to say less, ask more, and change the way you lead forever. It was one of those books that, I read a lot of leadership books, but this one was one that was like, as I was going through it, I was testing it out with my team.
It's so practical. I love it. And so I recommend it to a lot of leaders. You can use it immediately, each chapter, which you can start using it. The coaching habit. I really liked it.
And so as we wrap up, what's the single most important thing you would want our human capital listeners to take away from our talk today?
One thing would be a lot of people right now are trying to scramble and we need diversity training. And so then they're going for oh, we need anti-racism training. We need to talk about white supremacy. And all these things are really important, but that's not where the human brain needs to begin.
Right. So if you actually want deep conceptual and cultural change. You can't start there and it really is a journey. And if you're in this space you got to start from building that culture and, and doing it, like it's actually really a fixed process and a lot of diversity and inclusion people don't see it that way.
It really is a fixed process to actually get to real deeper learning and conceptual change. So that would be. Just be aware of where you're starting and where your people are starting. And I know that we get a lot of pressure from leaders of no, this is what we must teach, but I've pushed back a lot and it's served me well.
That's very good insight.
Yeah. I'll go back to that leadership. So it's not specifically leadership, but your question, but it's most recently what I learned was like, it's like a general thing. I am the expert in my space. I do know what I'm talking about and that I don't need to shift just because the VP of this massive company is telling me to do it this way.
I need to stick to my guns. And the conviction of this is my lived experience. This is my expertise. I'm telling you that your team is not ready to have this. This is where you need to start. This is, this is steps 1, 2, 3, you can’t start at 4.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it, right?
Yeah. Sometimes being like a smaller company, you can get pushed around a little bit, but I can't stand behind the results if you do it any other way.
Well, Myra, thanks so much for coming to the show today. Really appreciate all the wisdom you've shared.
Well, thank you for having me. I'm glad we found time to do this. It's really fun having this conversation with you.
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