Starbucks needs more than implicit bias training

After two black men were arrested for sitting at a Starbucks without purchase, global outrage inspired "implicit bias" training at all stores. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Those who frequent Starbucks regularly may want to choose an alternative coffee source on May 29. Starbucks will be closing its stores for the afternoon to implement “implicit bias” training for its employees. The nationwide training is in response to a video of two black men being arrested for simply sitting at a table without making a purchase at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12. The video went viral and sparked public outrage.

Training may be a good start, but more comprehensive and effective methods should be considered over time as well.

Slate reports that “implicit bias” is otherwise known as unconscious stereotyping based on race, gender or other characteristics. Harvard developed the “Implicit Association Test” (IAT) that measures biases built on associations a participant makes under a time constraint. Utilizing this test can lay a foundation for its employees to understand their cultural biases, but it should not be the only tool used to ensure discrimination is deterred.

Implementing mandatory diversity or bias training upon hire would be a proactive effort that could prevent future episodes in similar public places, but this implementation is just one step. Training must include a method of conceiving personal biases so that actions can be made out of empathy rather than discrimination.

Critics have argued that training employees to recognize their implicit biases may not be an effective measure to address racial profiling.

Since the two men in the Starbucks incident had not been causing any kind of disturbance while waiting at a table before they were arrested, it does seem like the manager who called the authorities had acted out of explicit bigotry.

Implicit or not, a test is not likely to be a sufficient method to confronting deeper social issues within our society. Attending a mandatory class at a place of employment may not eliminate any ingrained prejudices an employee harbors, but comprehensive practices on sensitive or empathetic decision-making could reduce the explicitly discriminatory behaviors going forward.

The cultural attitudes and social issues these problems arise from are much more complex than what could be addressed by a one-day training session. Starbucks should commit to these types of policies and procedures. Its commitment seems promising, given that it is choosing to close during business hours. This posits the seriousness of the training as more important than any potential loss of revenue.

If Starbucks is truly committed to its stance, comprehensive training should be a job requirement upon hiring and something to revisit throughout employment. The company did release a statement on April 17, stating “the training will be provided to 175,000 partners (employees) across the country, and will become part of the onboarding process for new partners.”

In the Starbucks’ press release, executive chairman Howard Shultz also states, “the company’s founding values are based on humanity and inclusion. We will learn from our mistakes and reaffirm our commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for every customer.”

Humanity and inclusion must be the cornerstone of corporate diversity training. Otherwise, the results may be ineffective.


Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary social science.