Starbucks tackles implicit bias. Here's why you should, too.


According to news reports, Starbucks closed 8,000 company-owned stores for 4 hours to conduct racial bias training for 175,000 employees after a viral video that showed two black men, waiting in the café for another individual, arrested in a Philadelphia store. The store's manager had been the one to call the police.

Some applaud Starbucks' quick response, while others lament what they say is an ineffective approach, questioning whether a few hours of training will make a significant impact. The training focused on implicit bias, which is the idea that people stereotype others unconsciously based on things like race, gender, or ethnicity. Setting aside the details of the training, Starbucks is taking an important step by taking a values based stand, admitting the underlying issues of bias, and taking steps to remedy them. The company says the May 29th training was just the start, and expects more work to follow.

Starbucks may have found itself more publicly at the center of this issue, though it is one that every organization faces. We've written in the past about cognitive bias, which are errors in thinking - often based on past experiences - that affect decision making. Implicit bias is one form of this, and it can have grave business consequences. Implicit bias might affect your hiring choices, business decisions, and employee experiences. So what should an organization do?

  • Lead by example. Leaders who prioritize diversity and inclusion set the tone and culture for the rest of the company. Since these biases are, by definition, unconscious, leaders who take the time to step back and examine their thoughts, feelings, and decisions within a context of diversity and inclusion can make great strides towards overcoming these biases, which will be evident to the rest of the organization. This is different than showing returns on diversity and inclusion efforts, but committing to these values simply because they are the right thing to do.

  • Realize implicit bias is widespread. Implicit bias is hard to conquer precisely because these are unconscious thoughts, but that's all the more reason you need to work on them. Providing on-going manager training that includes how to analyze data and situations or give feedback can help prevent implicit bias within your workplace.

  • Think long-term. While Starbucks' decision to shut down for a few hours was a bold and costly move, the conversation needs to continue for it to have real, lasting impact. It's critical to think about the ways in which implicit bias affects your organization. Does your hiring process reflect a lack of diversity? You may need to change the way you handle recruiting. Does the makeup of top level leadership positions reflect the diverse makeup of the entire organization, or, as is fairly typical, does it tend to be mostly white men? Consider creating more development or mentorship opportunities for women and minorities.

  • Be honest about your strengths, and weaknesses. Since these biases are unconscious, most people aren't even aware of them. A strategically-designed survey can help your organization identify areas that may be ripe for improvement, and specific diversity and inclusion action plans can help your leaders focus their efforts.

These conversations are hard, but necessary. Hopefully, negative events like the arrests of these innocent men can help push the tide toward a more even and just society, where workplaces reflect the diversity of our country and individuals are given opportunities and rewards based on their performance, not their gender, race, or ethnicity.

Interested in how OrgVitality can help you measure your culture of inclusion and diversity? Contact us today for a free consultation and demo.