Starbucks was publicly shamed last month after two black customers were arrested in one of their Philadelphia outlets for reasons that still seem baffling. The two men were waiting for a friend to arrive before placing an order, but were asked to leave. When they asked why, the police were called. Almost inevitably the incident was filmed and the fallout has been wide-reaching. The chain, which draws annual global revenue in excess of $22 billion, faced accusations of unconscious bias and even open racism.
To their credit Starbucks wasted no time in addressing the issue. Over 8,000 US-based outlets were closed yesterday afternoon, enabling 175,000 staff to receive “unconscious bias” training. No expense was spared in the session and shutting up shop on a weekday afternoon meant a huge amount of expense was incurred, but the reaction has been mixed.
There’s anger among some employees that anyone should have to be trained not to be a racist. There’s also widespread scepticism about the effectiveness of the exercise. From a PR standpoint it may have looked like a good option but to those of us who’ve worked in environments that were poisoned by prejudice – conscious and unconscious – it seems optimistic in the extreme to expect that kind of negativity to disappear because people watched a video. Doing something is usually better than doing nothing, but what’s the best course of action?
We can’t blame Starbucks for the racism that pervades society and it’s harsh to blame them for recruiting people who are guilty of unconscious bias. Unspoken prejudice can fly under the radar in the most diligent recruitment interviews, so how can we deal with it and give it no room to flourish?
Those of us who […]