UK executives embrace Metaverse as an opportunity for DE&I progress

As business use cases focus on people-centric applications, best practice in DE&I becomes critical when building trust in the metaverse

The metaverse has the potential to drive progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives among UK business executives, according to a new study by EY.

The research, released today, suggests that as the adoption of metaverse technology continues to grow and use cases solidify, integrating DE&I best practices early on will be crucial for UK businesses to seize the opportunities it presents.

EY’s 2023 Metaverse Readiness Survey indicates a significant increase in adopting metaverse technology among business leaders. Almost half (47%) of executives are already investing in or using the technology in some capacity, with 61% believing that abstaining from it would be detrimental to their businesses.

Make DE&I a priority

The survey also sheds light on how these leaders intend to apply metaverse technology, revealing a predominant focus on people-oriented areas, such as customer service.

While it is imperative for organisations to build trusted customer experiences using the metaverse, the survey raises concerns about the current prioritisation of DE&I initiatives among business leaders as they develop their metaverse capabilities.

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents believe there is a risk that business interests will overshadow user rights, including accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.

However, the survey also highlights optimism regarding the potential benefits of metaverse technologies in advancing DE&I initiatives, provided they are managed carefully.

Building trust

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of surveyed executives state that their companies recognise the DE&I implications and actively explore ways to manage associated risks. For instance, 63% proactively support employees and users with physical conditions, such as visual impairments, to ensure access and participation in the metaverse.

This proactive approach is crucial in building trust in metaverse technologies, with 64% of respondents believing it “offers an opportunity to transform our approach to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.”

Laura Henchoz, Emerging Technology Markets Leader at EY UKI, said: “Trust in new technologies, especially those with predominantly people-based applications, is hard-earned yet critical for their development.

“Whether it’s intended for team collaboration or customer support, creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive experiences is central to building trust in the technology and reaping its benefits.”

Henchoz added: “The good news is that leaders don’t need to start from scratch. They can leverage existing insights from AI and social media to ensure ethical practices and foster new ways of advancing DE&I initiatives. By adopting this proactive approach, we could witness exciting applications from early adopters.”

Business guidance

To provide businesses with guidance on integrating DE&I practices into the metaverse and its applications, the EY Foundation, EY Metaverse Lab, Ofcom, and the School of Digital Arts (SODA) at Manchester Metropolitan University are collaborating to examine the impact of the metaverse on social inclusion.

This collaborative effort involves working with young people from low-income backgrounds in Greater Manchester alongside the metaverse diaries of acclaimed visual artist Alina Akbar. A key outcome of this project will be the development of principles and recommended actions for building a socially inclusive metaverse.

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