By Rachel Feintzeig and Julie Jargon
Starbucks Corp. is hoping that upcoming anti-bias training will
help prevent fraught encounters like the one that led to the arrest
of two black men at one of its cafes last month.
How effective it will be is an open question. Although such
training has been used by companies for about two decades, its
benefits are largely unproven and experts say it needs to be baked
into an organization for the long term to really work.
"Expectations have to be managed," said Sherrilyn Ifill,
president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, who is advising Starbucks pro bono on its
anti-bias efforts. She told reporters Thursday that it is an
Starbucks is planning to close all of its more than 8,000
company-operated stores in the U.S. on the afternoon of May 29 to
conduct the training. Starbucks employees will gather at the stores
where they work to watch videos featuring Starbucks Chairman Howard
Schultz, board member Mellody Hobson and the hip-hop artist Common,
among others, discussing what bias means and how to treat others
respectfully, according to a video preview Starbucks posted online
this week. They also will do exercises in which they are asked to
share stories of how they have experienced bias in their own
Part of the training is aimed at ensuring that the "third place"
Starbucks says it provides between home and work is inclusive,
executives say. "May 29 isn't a solution, it's a first step," said
Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president for U.S.
retail, in a letter to employees that the company cited online
Starbucks didn't disclose how much the continuing training will
cost but a spokeswoman said, "we believe this is a critical
investment in the long-term success of Starbucks" and that the
company will continue to invest in this area.
The company faced backlash in the past week over a new policy
that says everyone, including nonpaying guests, is welcome to use
its cafes, including the bathrooms. Many customers have complained
on social media that they may not find room to sit and that the
bathrooms might become unsafe or dirty. Some are threatening to
take their business elsewhere. Some customers, though, have lauded
Starbucks for the effort.
Starbucks decided to offer the training after a store manager in
Philadelphia in April called the police when two black men who
hadn't purchased anything and were allegedly denied bathroom access
didn't leave the store when asked. That store's policy required
guests to make a purchase to be in the store and use the bathroom,
but Starbucks executives said the police never should have been
Mr. Schultz told "CBS This Morning" last month that he met with
the store manager and believed she demonstrated unconscious bias
when deciding to call the police. The company hasn't named the
manager but said she has left the company. Starbucks executives
apologized to the two men and settled with them for an undisclosed
The potential for treating customers differently based on race
is present in all industries, experts say.
A recent study by two university researchers found evidence of
bias among hotel employees. Alexandra Feldberg, a doctoral
candidate in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School,
and Tami Kim, an assistant professor of marketing at the University
of Virginia Darden School of Business, in 2016 sent emails to more
than 7,000 U.S. hotels posing as people with Caucasian,
African-American and Asian sounding names, seeking restaurant
suggestions. The emails that came from Caucasian-sounding names
received the highest response rate as well as the friendliest and
most thorough responses, their research found. The findings haven't
yet been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal.
"The results tell us that bias is not specific to companies --
that it happens at all companies that interface with customers,"
Ms. Kim said. "If there's no big event like what happened at
Starbucks, companies may not realize it's happening within their
Getting people to analyze their own judgment while dealing with
customers could be challenging, according to David Rock, director
of the NeuroLeadership Institute, a research firm that applies
neuroscience to the workplace. Workers can notice others' bias in
real time, he said, and even pinpoint their bias in hindsight, but
rarely can recognize their own bias as it is happening.
Jamie Lyn Perry, a professor of human resource management at
Cornell University's SC Johnson College of Business, has found that
the effects of one-day training "decay over time," with
participants' attitudes toward diversity deteriorating six or 12
months after a training session.
Ms. Perry said 360-degree evaluations -- where employees
critique each other as well as their supervisors -- can help
monitor behavior, and companies should tie economic incentives,
such as raises, to the inclusive behavior they want to promote.
Some studies have shown that anti-bias training can have a
measurable change. For example, a University of California,
Berkeley psychologist trained a group of middle-school teachers to
change their disciplinary approach from treating misbehaving
students simply as troublemakers, to trying to understand why they
might be misbehaving. In the year after the training was conducted,
the students whose teachers had undergone the training had half the
suspension rate as students whose teachers had not.
Other studies have shown greater diversity in hiring at
companies whose managers have undergone such training.
But there hasn't been a long-term, longitudinal study conducted
on such training within a large organization, according to L. Song
Richardson, dean of the University of California Irvine School of
Law. She said it is extremely difficult to eliminate the implicit
biases people have but that it is possible to build awareness of
"The more challenging question is what institutional changes
[Starbucks executives] will commit to making in order to reduce
instances of biased behaviors. What safeguards will they put in
place? What policies will they institute?" Ms. Richardson said.
Ms. Ifill, of the NAACP, and Heather McGhee, president of
left-leaning think tank Demos and an unpaid adviser to Starbucks,
said they will be releasing a report next month detailing steps
Starbucks can take to weave anti-bias efforts into all parts of the
Write to Rachel Feintzeig at email@example.com and Julie
Jargon at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 26, 2018 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)
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