This week, May 29 to be exact, Starbucks will close 8,000 of its stores to conduct racial bias training for 175,000 employees. I applaud Starbucks for this move. This is in response to the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks. The incident came about after they asked to use the bathroom while they were waiting on a business associate. They were refused and told bathrooms were for paying customers only. Because they would not leave the police were called.
Closing their stores might cost Starbucks $16.7 million in sales. That’s not their only expense because they’ll be paying all 175,000 employees and whatever the cost of the training that’s being developed by several individuals and entities. I think that’s called putting your money where your mouth is. In other words, Starbucks is taking this very seriously.
Will it work? That depends on how you define success. You see, there are several problems with any approach to the issue of racial bias.
All it takes is One Bad Apple
With 175,000 employees there are bound to be some bad apples. I’d venture to say there will be a lot of bad apples in that big an employee pool. Despite many good things Starbucks has done to help communities and embrace diversity it only takes one incident to damage their reputation. Despite all the negative press, not long after the incident in Philadelphia a Latino man in Los Angeles said his Starbucks cup had a racial slur written on it.
What if someone who is overtly racist gets a job at Starbucks just to commit a racist act to intentionally harm the company? What if a genuinely decent person unknowingly says or does something to offend someone? What if someone just has a bad day and says or does something they’ve never said or done before? With so many people in such a large organization we’re fooling ourselves if we think such things won’t happen in the future.
Behavior Change is Hard
As someone who’s been involved in training for about 25 years I can tell you a half day of training isn’t likely to make a big change in behavior. It may produce a small, immediate bump but without ongoing conversations, coaching and continual reminders most of what is taught will fade from memory rather quickly.
There’s something known as the Forgetting Curve based on Ebbinghaus Theory which basically says we will forget most of what we learn without constant reminders and practice. If you doubt that I challenge you to recall much, if anything, from some of your high school or college classes. You may have spent three days a week for 16 weeks in some of those classes and probably can’t recall a thing!
What’s Implicit Bias?
According to the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Did you catch the “unconscious manner” part at the end? A big part of the racism problem is people don’t believe they’re racist. They are but they’re unaware of it. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I’m the least racist person you’ll ever meet,” or “I don’t see color.” Yea right.
I wrote a blog post years ago about this issue and called it I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. I’ll leave it to you to read the post but suffice it to say we all harbor attitudes which, if surfaced, might surprise us. Nobody is immune. Even people who spend the better part of their lives fighting racism sometimes engage in racist behaviors. Two examples would be Melissa Harris-Perry and more recently Joy Reid.
And consider this; many acceptable things people say and do today might be considered racist 50 or 100 years from now because societal norms change.
As I shared in the opening, I applaud Starbucks. They’re trying and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. If we collectively stop doing business with every organization that has someone do something racially insensitive we won’t have anywhere to shop. My personal opinion is this; we need to call out racism when we encounter it. Once we’ve done that we need to react more to the way a business handles the incident than the fact that it occurred.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.