An Energetic Response from Starbucks

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Closing 8k+ stores for sensitivity training

Following an incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week in which two African American men were arrested after asking to use a bathroom without purchasing anything, Starbucks announced on Tuesday that it would close 8k+ company-owned stores for one day in May to offer anti-implicit-bias training to 175k employees.

What is ‘implicit bias’?

Implicit bias is prejudice that compels people to make decisions based partly on a stereotype (usually a racial stereotype) without being aware that the stereotype has influenced them. The concept of implicit bias has become politicized: some on the left see it as a mechanism of action for the emergence and sustenance of racial disparities - while some on the right see it as junk science that propels ‘identity politics’.



Those against anti-bias training see Starbucks’ reaction to the Philadelphia incident as a pure PR play: it’s lipservice so the brand can save face. Articles against the anti-bias training point to research that says implicit bias is not real (more specifically, that it’s not a real indicator of whether individuals will actually discriminate) - and that Starbucks’ management is just kowtowing to a highly politicized and racialized culture-of-the-moment.

 

Those in favor of anti-bias training assert that the Starbucks' anti-bias training is likely to positively affect customers’ experiences. Articles point out that Starbucks has a track record of supporting justice and social transformation and will surely follow up on the one-day training in May to support sustained change. Those who support the training also highlight the stability of Starbucks’ share price during this incident, arguing that investors see management’s quick action as positive.


So, is implicit bias training worth the effort?

What happened to the two African American men in Philly was not right - it seems all sides agree on that. As to research that says “implicit bias” isn’t real, one might refer back to the 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who said: “There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics.” So, maybe there is research that says “implicit bias” isn’t a good predictor of discriminatory behavior - but who cares? Racial bias is certainly real and spending time and money to educate folks on their biases cannot be a bad thing.

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