Starbucks anti-bias training misses the mark
- In a recent response to a public relations nightmare that occurred in one of its Philadelphia stores, Starbucks closed all its more than 8,000 U.S. shops to provide anti-bias training for its employees. More than 20,000 Canadian employees were provided the same training as their U.S. counterparts, but many say it missed an opportunity to discuss Canadian’s experiences with indigenous people, according to a report from The Globe and Mail.
- The training focused primarily on race relations in the U.S. A short documentary film reviewed a history of discrimination in the U.S. against people of color: beginning with highlights of segregation on buses and in restaurants in the 1960s through recent racial slurs caught on video.
- Many in the Canadian audience felt the material was relatable, but some were concerned the issue of clashes with the country’s indigenous people was "sidestepped," leaving employees dissatisfied. Too much focus was presented on "American" issues, they felt, to the exclusion of other challenges.
Following the April 2017 incident at a Pennsylvania location where two black men were arrested for not making a purchase while waiting for a friend to arrive, Starbucks quickly apologized for the incident and announced store closures for racial bias training. Previews of the curriculum were shared in advance of the sessions. Stores in both the U.S. and Canada were closed for the training, but on different days a few weeks apart.
Training focused on issues relatable to American workers did not work for some of our neighbors to the north. Creating compliance training that resonates with workers can be challenging. Unconscious bias training may be even more difficult to address with employees, as many dispute they hold any biases at all.
The Philadelphia situation highlights what many see with front-facing employees. The concerns of the Canadian audience reinforce that training must be personalized to be effective. In addition to addressing the needs of the marketplace, personalized learning meets the needs of employees. Whether or not the incident happened in one of their locations, training can benefit all employees if delivered thoughtfully.