Is there already a glass ceiling in the MetaOffice?

Building an equitable metaverse workplace will be a collaborative process requiring brave leadership and grassroots participation.

It’s precisely now, at the early stages of the meta verse adoption, that we can learn from our mistakes in real life work and build a better kind of “Metawork.” This is going to be a collaborative process requiring brave leadership and grassroots participation. But with awareness and intent, we will be able to build an exciting and equitable professional frontier for women and minorities.

The metaverse — the four-dimensional, ultra-immersive online world is in its infancy. We owe it to ourselves to try and build it without the glass ceiling that exists in the real world. Indeed, women are the metaverse’s key users. But when it comes to power dynamics, the proportions are flipped. At the moment, there’s a gender gap in the metaverse, and despite our dreams of building a virtual world with more equity than exists in most places on earth, that gap looks disturbingly similar to the brick-and- mortar tech world today.

So where can we get started?

CEO and entrepreneur roles remain disproportionately male, a phenomenon that echoes venture capital, where only 17 percent of funds go to woman-led companies. It also mimics Fortune 500 numbers, where less than 10 percent of the occupants of corner offices are women.

But there’s still time to turn things around while the technology is in its infancy. The metaverse workplace – we’ll call it “metawork” or the “MetaOffice” — is a great place to start.

While “41 percent of women have used a primary metaverse platform or participated in a digital world,” only 34 percent of men have. This fragile majority offers an unprecedented opportunity to build a brave new world where representation is taken seriously. When we let women get in on the ground floor, we can also shatter the glass ceiling.

Today, human resources teams — long familiar with the particulars of gender-blind recruiting and hiring

— can lean on the metaverse to elevate companies’ gender-blind interviewing and promoting. Indeed, allowing potential recruits to choose a gender-neutral or fantastical avatar is one of the strongest tools companies have had to wield in their efforts for equity in decades.

As companies build out their spaces in this emerging virtual world, another key component will be design justice – which uses the principles of design to embrace marginalized perspectives and create spaces that are inclusive at every angle. The communities who will be impacted by design are considered before the design itself is made, so keeping the needs of female workers in mind and also ensuring female designers have a seat at the table will be critical in the emerging metaverse.

Moreover, hybrid working has become a permanent fixture and the metaverse provides an ideal platform to extend and improve this new reality with companies like Google already pioneering collaboration equity.

Women, who in multiple surveys have shown they prefer remote work, have an advantage in the virtual world. HR teams can encourage and support their female employees by directing resources toward metaverse work environments, ensuring that in a hybrid workplace, the employees who choose to log in from home will be pioneers in their company’s budding metaverse spaces and help shape its design, format and culture. The days of being the only woman in the room may recede when global colleagues gather in a shared virtual workspace. What will happy hour look like when all the team members who would normally be with their children can join the party from the school run?

Whereas digital transformation was led originally by male dominated IT teams, HR professionals, who are predominantly female, need to be key players in building a better virtual working world. According to the McKinsey report, “in organizations shaping metaverse standards, 90% of leadership roles are held by men.” We’ve seen in the real world that, when standards are determined largely by men, women’s concerns are often ignored or misunderstood. Women leaders must be actively recruited at this early stage to help shape the standards.

Metawork is already happening, and there’s a great deal of innovation afoot. The current use cases are all about immersive onboarding and training. Accenture, for example, built an entire Nth floor for its consultants. The company has also set up an entire AT consulting team to help other enterprises power their way to success in the metaverse, while Microsoft Mesh for teams is setting up employees to transition from Zoom to Web3 by trading in their video chat for an avatar and seamlessly bringing 3D spaces into their current chat rooms.

More than 500 companies are already building in the metaverse, with more joining every day. And as businesses struggle to shift back to in-person work or balance remote workers and hybrid workweeks, HR teams are jumping at the opportunity to use the metaverse to grow and adapt company culture.

As such, HR teams and managers should set up cross-business teams that pair tech focused employees with those in other departments to train and then collaborate on how to apply the metaverse to improve intercompany and/or customer or product interactions.

We saw how Zoom enabled the hybrid workforce with the lightning bolt changes of the pandemic. Now, the Metaverse is poised to take all that much further, but the pace of change is slower and the path less clear. There are exciting early use cases in training and learning and development and there will be more innovation to come.

The next generation of the internet offers us an almost blank slate to build a better, more equitable digital universe to learn, work and play in. Yet like social media and other bold new frontiers before it, human beings don’t travel lightly into new worlds. We lug all our baggage with us – and the same is true for the metaverse. The potential is there for inclusivity – but much like the real world, we’re going to have to work at it.