Starbucks locations across the country will close their doors for a day to train 175,000 employees about racial bias in one of the largest corporate responses to an incident involving racial profiling. A step CEO Howard Schultz says is "just a beginning."
The training is part of Starbucks’ efforts to overhaul the company’s image following the April arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia location. In the incident, a Starbucks manager called the police after the two men declined to make a purchase, explaining that they were waiting for a business associate.
The incident sparked protests and hurt Starbucks’ reputation, but its pledge to close stores while it trained its employees on racial bias is "unprecedented," said Heather McGhee, president of left-leaning think tank Demos and who provided pro bono advice to Starbucks about the training. Yet the effort is only a first step in what she said will be a "multiphase process" at the coffee chain in tackling a tough problem.
"This isn’t just a Starbucks problem — this is an American problem," McGhee said on a conference call to discuss the training.
She added, "We won’t be a rubber stamp" that gives the all-clear on bias in stores and other locations.
One afternoon of training can’t solve deep problems such as discrimination or treating customers differently because of their race, said Keba Konte, the founder of Red Bay Coffee, an Oakland, California-based coffee company whose staff includes women, people of color and people who had previously been imprisoned. He said he’d like to see Starbucks’ executive and managerial ranks to become as diverse as the customers they serve.
"It’s not really going to be enough if they stop here," Konte said. "Racial bias is built into our society. That doesn’t change in a couple of hours of training."
Even though it won’t solve the entrenched issue of societal bias, the training will "get everyone bought into the idea that it’s an important issue with the closure of the stores," said Oliver Cooke, head of recruitment firm Selby Jennings. "There’s an element of PR involved in that and showing the general public that they take it seriously, and showing the workforce that they are taking it seriously."
A Starbucks spokesman said Tuesday’s training is part of a bigger commitment to anti-bias education. "This is a long-term effort and we plan to address all kinds of bias in the weeks, months and years ahead," he said.
Here’s what Starbucks workers will be doing as part of their anti-bias training on Tuesday afternoon:
Employees will watch a film by an award-winning documentarian
Stanley Nelson, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow and documentarian, made a short film called "You’re Welcome." Nelson is known for films such as 2003’s "The Murder of Emmett Till" and 2010’s "Freedom Riders."
"What surprised me was the willingness of Starbucks to see the importance of creating a film that describes this issue as a broader civil rights issue," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the conference call to talk about the training.
Howard Schultz and rapper Common will appear in videos
Starbucks co-founder Howard Schultz will appear in a video to address employees, as well as other top executives such as chief executive Kevin Johnson. The rap performer Common will also appear, the company said.
The message delivered by Schultz appears to focus on providing inclusivity in "the third place," or the idea that Starbucks provides a third location where people gather between home and work.
"They made it clear they can’t have a third place for all Americans if Americans of all backgrounds don’t feel welcome," said Demos’ McGhee.
Workers will talk in groups about racial bias
Employees will participate in "small self-guided groups" to talk about racial bias and how race impacts them. Stores will be given "tool kits" that help employees discuss these issues, the company said.
Starbucks managers are also undergoing training
Executives and managers are also taking anti-bias training, Ifill said.
"One of our very early conversations is that the executive team has to do training before 5/29," Ifill said, adding that the store’s executives had training earlier this month.
The Starbucks spokesman said managers are going through the "exact same training" as its baristas.
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