Advance Performance | Starbucks: Managing a Crisis of Implicit Racial Bias within Its Culture
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Starbucks: Managing a Crisis of Implicit Racial Bias within Its Culture

Starbucks: Managing a Crisis of Implicit Racial Bias within Its Culture

Starbucks is to close more than 8,000 company-owned branches in the US for the afternoon on 29th May to carry out “racial bias” training with the aim of preventing further inherent prejudice being displayed by employees in the chain. 

Nearly 175,000 staff will receive the training, as will all future recruits. This training afternoon, which will cost the company around $20 million in lost sales, follows the arrest of two black men for trespassing when they were waiting for someone in a Starbucks in Philadelphia last week.

The threat of a boycott in Philadelphia, and the spread of the arrest video as well as another racially biased incident in California has spurred on the company from its CEO downwards to address the issue within the company to stamp out the racial prejudice.

Starbucks’ chief executive Kevin Johnson spent the past few days in Philadelphia and met the two men who were arrested. Johnson said he had been “learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it.”  He says he is determined that this “painful incident can become a vehicle for positive social change.

Earlier this week, Starbucks began a review of its training and practices to make important reforms where necessary to ensure their stores always represent their Mission and Values, by providing a safe and inclusive environment for all their customers and partners.

Starbucks is renowned for its positive and inclusive company culture of partners. Every employee becomes a shareholder and “partner” within the company. The company prides itself on having a culture of inclusion – winning awards for its inclusion of disability and has the top rating on the Human Rights Campaign 2015 Corporate Equality Index.

However, Starbucks has not always succeeded with its inclusivity within its culture particularly with racial issues. In 2015, there was a campaign in which baristas stuck labels that read “Race Together” on coffee cups to try to spark a dialogue about race. Howard Schultz, the CEO at the time, was shocked at the widespread condemnation of this superficial and ill advised campaign. And as we see in 2018, this “promo” did not address the inherent biases of individual employees at different coffee shops.

As we discuss on our Advance courses, a company culture must be created to reflect the values and central “why” of the company. It needs to have clear leadership from the top and follow through the management and teams in the whole company.

Every individual who works at the company needs to be able to understand, believe and behave according to the the values and culture. Just writing a trendy mission statement or displaying huge posters with positive tag lines do not create an inherent culture. The leader must act as a role model, and form practical strategies to ensure the roll out of a culture can be effective. The values of a company must form a culture which is adhered to in the toughts and beahviour of every employee.

Within one week of this crisis, Kevin Johnson has taken hold of the issue in both the communication of the racial bias issue and instigated positive practical strategy. He showed strong leadership in accepting the failures much further down the line of one barista by visiting Philadelphia and talking to the two men involved. The barista has since left the company.

The announcement that all employees within the US coffee shops and corporate headquarters will take part in the racial bias training exemplifies strong leadership to ensure racial bias is not allowed to become an accepted part of the company culture at any level.

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,” said Mr Johnson.

As part of its damage-limitation effort, the company has asked civil rights leaders and officials including former US Attorney General Eric Holder to assist in developing a “curriculum” for staff, which it will make available to other companies.

The company statement says that training will “address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.

The form of the training day at Starbucks follows the recognised formula of Implicit Bias training – how we all make decisions and behave according to our inherent beliefs which affect our conscious thoughts. The US companies explore the science of the neurological factors of strengthened brain connections so that when we react subconsciously.

Implicit bias must sound very familiar if you have attended our Peak Performance or Leadership courses! It is basically the same concept as we have been teaching for years!

As we discuss on our courses, by being aware of our thoughts, we are more conscious of the thought process which is a result of our beliefs we have developed over many years. By being aware, we can make the conscious decision from our thoughts to our behaviour. As our thoughts are repeated, we strengthen our dendrites so that each time we behave the same way, the behaviour becomes a habit.

This implicit racist bias is unacceptable as we are all aware. However, the next step is to utilise the training day to form the strategy to ensure the culture at Starbucks is a positive welcoming experience and a safe environment for every customer. This can only happen by a complete adoption of the culture from Kevin  Johnson to every coffee shop and every barista who is a partner at Starbucks.