Starbucks to close shops for racial bias training

Source: ABC, Good Morning America
Apr 19, 2018

Earlier this week, Starbucks announced that it would close all 8,000 of its company-operated stores in the U.S. on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct a training session intended to prevent racial discrimination in its stores. The announcement follows an incident in Philadelphia last week when a manager called police to remove two black men who were waiting in the store for a third person to show up for a business meeting. Protests condemning Starbucks quickly sprung up. The company apologized for the incident.

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz told “CBS This Morning” that he first saw the video of the two men being arrested on Friday. “I couldn’t believe it. I was sick to my stomach. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. This is the antithesis of the values and culture and everything Starbucks stands for.”

“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, in a statement. “While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being part of the solution. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

The coffee chain’s racial bias training program, which will be provided to all 175,000 of its employees and become part of its “onboarding process” for all new hires, is being developed with guidance from experts, including: Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. The program is intended to “address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”

DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, told MSNBC that he was “hopeful” that Starbucks training program would bring improvement, but that it could solve many of its issues in the recruitment process.

“What would it mean to hire people who already believe in this stuff and don’t need training, right?” Mr. McKesson said. “Like having a pipeline of managers and people who make decisions who already understand equity. Not everyone needs to be trained on this because some people live it every day and understand the issues really well. That’s part of the structural change.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see eliminating the type of problem that occurred at Starbucks in Philadelphia being more of a recruitment or training issue? How well would you say most retail industry employers are doing in addressing implicit bias, promoting conscious inclusion and preventing discrimination within their businesses?

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18 Comments on "Starbucks to close shops for racial bias training"

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Mark Ryski

Sadly, I don’t believe you will ever completely eliminate racial bias – the Starbucks incident is just another example of the deeper societal issues that remain. I applaud Starbucks for their response to the incident, however, this cannot be a once-and-done event. Recruitment and training are both required, but ultimately it comes down to the culture of the company itself. The values that Schultz and his leaders express about the issue seem heart-felt and authentic, but I think the retail industry and society in general still have a long way to go.

Art Suriano

The right training will definitely help, but it starts with the right culture and the understanding of equality and not to discriminate needs to be integrated into all the training, not just be a one-time program. The training needs to be reinforced going forward with additional refresher programs that also address those issues.

Too many companies think training is a one-time program and everything should be fine. It’s not, it’s ongoing, and the values and principles of the company come from the culture. Starbucks has a good culture, but for this incident to have happened, there is room for improvement.

Also, people learn by example so while Starbucks is training store associates, remember that leadership starts at the top, meaning everyone at the company needs to be part of this training and fully support the objectives.

Neil Saunders

Starbucks has done the right thing by taking this seriously and rolling out training. It has also taken a firm stand and made it clear that the actions in Philadelphia have no place in its culture. Starbucks is a decent corporation and I believe that its remorse and willingness to solve the problem are both genuine.

Sadly no amount of training will completely eliminate discrimination or mean-spiritedness in the corporate world. A much bigger cultural shift is needed for that.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

What started as the politically correct movement has become hyper-sensitizing across society. Values such as respect have a long timeline of education while training can offer little more than the the dos and don’ts. Yes, such training is valuable. Codifying the expected behaviour of staff offers another criteria for performance assessment and development, and let’s face it, conducting such training provides visible indicators to consumers of how they could expect to be treated, even as they see themselves, and perhaps too often are, just another coffee order.

Cathy Hotka

This shocking incident called for a definitive response, and kudos to CEO Kevin Johnson for responding so forcefully. Retail companies would do well to emphasize the old saw that “the customer is always right,” and emphasize respect and goodwill for all. Besides, who among us hasn’t waited in a Starbucks for a colleague?

Lee Kent

As Art mentioned, “Starbucks has a good culture, but for this incident to have happened, there is room for improvement.” For something like this to happen at Starbucks, that was unthinkable but it happened. The companies response? Now that is Starbucks. It is worth closing their stores to let the public know this is important. Is it just a training issue? No. It takes training, recruitment and culture all working together. And that’s my 2 cents.

Frank Riso

The way to eliminate this type of problem is both training and recruitment. It may not completely eliminate bias, but go a long way at preventing future issues. The retail industry is no different than the rest of our society at addressing implicit bias and we all need to step up and be more aware of our actions regarding it. Starbucks is taking action by closing all of their company stores. This is one way of gaining the attention of the public, showing how serious they see the issue.

Chris Buecker

Starbucks reacted quickly and responsibly. It sends out an important message to its customers that the top management has taken this unfortunate incident very seriously. To prevent these incidents in future, both levels are important — constant training and taking care in the hiring process to select people that share the company’s values. Other companies can certainly learn from Starbucks in this case.

Brandon Rael

This is a much-needed PR and damage control move by Starbucks. I applaud the organization for taking such a serious stance on this issue.

However, a single event will not eliminate the issue of racial bias. This continues to be a challenge for our entire society and not just the corporate world. For companies to effectively acknowledge and incorporate strategies into their culture to help drive change, it’s critical that this all originates from the top of the organization.

A cultural and philosophical shift takes time to resonate, but via hard work, determination and a shared sense of responsibility, it could happen.

Bob Phibbs

What I think is lost in this is that one individual redefined their store values to the world. That makes it a training issue. One can assume everyone understands Starbucks culture, but how does it look in the real world? Casual words can have big impact. The far right is chomping this was a setup, etc. Starbucks is the one that closed their stores to re-teach their baristas how to make their drinks. They take their image seriously and recognize how they have to constantly work to avoid being just a coffee place; they’re working to create a Star Trek world and I applaud them.

Paula Rosenblum

It’s a very long walk from where we’ve been as a country around race, gender and sexual identity to where we need to go, and the walk is going a LOT slower than I expected. I think we just have to keep walking, and I congratulate Mr. Schultz for giving it a go and trying to be part of the solution.

I’d LOVE to see screening out bias as part of the recruitment process … it’s sort of like forcing the thing to wither without food. But then they’ll just get angrier and the process will continue. Therefore, training is important, along with insuring you have a multi-cultural staff in stores. People tend to back off their implicit prejudice of “the other” when they actually engage with them.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

First, Starbucks should be commended for its swift and transparent response to this problem. Closing 8,000 stores is an appropriate strategic retreat to address this problem. Second, I do not think you can separate this problem into a recruitment versus training issue. It involves both. When it comes to engaging associates, I recommend you FIRE them up:

  • Find (F) the right people. Recruiting needs to be more of an active process.
  • Involve (I) them. This entails creating the appropriate culture and development (not training) programs.
  • Reward (R) them. Insure that the compensation package reinforces the behavior you are trying to promote.
  • Empower (E) them. Give them the opportunity to solve customer problems without checking on every occasion.

The Starbucks situation is shining the light on a condition which is more than likely pervasive in the retail industry. This wake up call should energize the industry to address the issues noted in this article.

Shep Hyken

First, I applaud how Starbucks is stepping up and owning the situation. You can’t ignore how they are handling an ugly situation. We are watching a case-study on how leadership should handle such issues. Congratulations to Starbucks!

No doubt that hiring practices can mitigate bringing in employees with racial bias. There are interview questions and testing that could help. Retailers (and all companies in almost every industry) are under a microscope when it comes to racial issues, gender bias and sexual harassment issues.

Ryan Mathews
A wise man once told me that prejudice was the belief a woman or man was somehow inferior because of the color of their skin and racism was the desire to believe that a woman or man was different because of their skin color. Prejudice, he argued, could be overcome by experience and education and was therefore — at least potentially — fixable. Racism, on the other hand, is almost impossible to turn around since it comes from a place deep inside an individual’s core beliefs and identity. So, to the degree the kind of behavior we saw at the Philadelphia Starbucks reflects prejudice, the afternoon session may be a start toward a solution. But, you aren’t converting racists in an afternoon. “Eliminating the type of problem,” we saw in Philadelphia would require tearing out the roots of institutional racism in America, and that is a HUGE job, way beyond training and recruitment. Implicit bias is just that — it’s baked into a person’s personality. I’d say based on the evidence nobody in America is… Read more »
Peter Charness

It’s a good move and a sad reminder of how deeply ingrained racial bias/profiling is in our society. Doing my part … by having a venti now, and hoping to visit an REI tomorrow … supporting the businesses that put good values first.

Phil Rubin
Phil Rubin
Founder, Grey Space Matters
4 years 7 months ago

Most retailers don’t adequately invest in training, period — much less training for bias, among other things!

This is not just an issue of training or recruitment but rather an issue of both, and an issue of leadership. Starbucks, clearly a leader, is addressing it head on, and did so expeditiously with the help of its former executive Jonathan Greenblatt, now CEO of ADL, and the other partners involved. Full Disclosure: I am a regional board chair for ADL (Southeast).

Bias such as this actually starts in pre-school level and unfortunately remains an issue for most people, as evidenced by what’s been happening in our society. If there is any question that this is an issue for the business community, you need only read the comments on yesterday’s WSJ article on the topic, as many are quite disgusting, and reflect our reality.

Rich Kizer

Bob Phibbs, you are spot on. You have to applaud a company that realizes the gravity of this situation and the potential disasters if ignored. It is amazing to me how I hear other business leaders scream “they have to close the stores to do this?” Beyond what Bob said, the lesson here is that when something this horrid occurs, EVERY company should and must react as strongly as Starbucks. As my favorite deputy sheriff (Barney Fife) once said, “Nip it … Nip it in the bud!” We all should be this aggressive!

Ken Wisnefski

I think that a majority of issues that occur in retail locations deal with training for scenarios that are not the typical aspects of the business. The reality of things is that it is hard to continually train employees due to cost and disruption of business. Sadly, the incident in Philadelphia is an example of this but hopefully, the coverage this story has received will help eliminate future situations like it.

"Training is important, along with insuring you have a multi-cultural staff in stores."
"We are watching a case-study on how leadership should handle such issues. "
"Retail companies would do well to emphasize the old saw that “the customer is always right,” and emphasize respect and goodwill for all."

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