Elise Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Praxis Labs, where she integrates cutting-edge virtual reality experiences into the world of DEI and HR, leveraging innovative tools to build empathy and equity within the workforce. By engaging in these immersive training experiences, users can step into a variety of identities and situations, enabling them to widen their perspectives, identify bias and inequity, and change workplace behaviors. The ripple effects of these mindset and behavioral shifts go well beyond the office walls.
It was Smith’s focus on scale that naturally led her into the technology space, first working with IBM Watson, where she built Watson for Education products and led B2B Sales and Education partnerships for the Watson group. She then joined the New Schools Venture Fund, a venture-philanthropy investing in innovation in learning, where she supported the Diverse Leaders portfolio in finding, funding, and coaching DEI entrepreneurs. Smith studied geography and social inequity at Dartmouth College and has an MBA and M.A. in education from Stanford University.
About Praxis Labs
Praxis Labs is an end-to-end immersive learning platform for soft skills that combines the best of research-driven curriculum and learning science, engaging learning experiences, and actionable insights to create more equitable, inclusive, and valuable companies. They partner with the world’s leading enterprise brands to utilize more inclusive and innovative practices that retain talent and support belonging through individual and organizational change. Their comprehensive approach and actionable insights translate learning into action, driving tangible improvements in workplace culture, policy, and, ultimately, business outcomes.
Learn more about Praxis Labs here.
When you look back in five years, what do you hope you and your organization have accomplished?
I see a unique opportunity to change the rules of how we do business by elevating humanity in the workplace. After the murder of George Floyd and the racial reckoning in the U.S., employees expect to see their organizations make real progress on representation, equity, and inclusion. At the same time, COVID has changed how we work and what we value at work: Workers and employees are looking to business leaders for solutions and impact.
According to Edelman Trust Barometer, workers expect CEOs to be the “face of change” and want more C-suite engagement on social issues. By an average five-to-one margin, respondents in the 28 countries surveyed want business to play a larger role on the issues of climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling, and racial injustice.
Moreover, 65% of employees feel less connected to their coworkers and more than half of employees who left their jobs in 2021 said they lacked a sense of belonging. All of this highlights the cost of getting DEI work wrong— the cost of recruiting, onboarding, and replacing talent, as well as reduced productivity and capacity, are all directly measurable and significant.
When I look back in five years, my hope is that every employee can advance inclusion and belonging within their team and workplace, from the retail floor to the boardroom to the warehouse. I also hope that this will have a catalytic effect and that by sparking change in the workplace, we can make society more equitable and inclusive as well.
How is the changing climate impacting your work?
Climate work is equity work. And climate change is a racial justice issue. Climate incidents of the past few decades—extreme weather conditions, widespread fires, and hurricanes—exposed extreme levels of inequality as the most vulnerable communities disproportionately faced health consequences, lost electricity and heat, and struggled to recover financially in the aftermath. As our climate challenges continue to mount, the situation for vulnerable communities—often people of color and historically underrepresented folks—will continue to worsen.
Any successful climate change initiative must center and take into account the perspectives and lived experiences of those who are most directly impacted by climate change. Building the empathy needed to listen to and respect vulnerable communities will be critical for climate activists and leaders in the years to come. We take all of this into account as we develop our programming, and hope that our efforts in the workplace call forth the empathy needed to respond accurately to the threats on these communities and our planet.