Starbucks and Unconscious Bias

Two men were recently arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop in Philadelphia for trespassing after they did not purchase anything. They were waiting for a friend and one asked to use the restroom. The store manager asked them to leave and they refused so she called 911.

How many times have you hung out at a coffee shop all day to work and use the free wi-fi? Did you use the restroom while you were there? Were you asked to leave? Probably not.

This extremely unfortunate event shows how much more focus there needs to be on respectful workplace, discrimination, and harassment training within organizations. This training should not only be part of new hire onboarding but should be refreshed on an annual basis.

Starbucks leadership handled this swiftly and admirably. The CEO called the occurrence “reprehensible” in both a letter and video. He offered to meet with the two men to personally apologize and include them in the problem-solving actions. He is handling this himself instead of sending his team.

He has committed to closing down all Starbucks shops for a full afternoon next month to train all employees on unconscious bias. He is also holding a company-wide meeting to discuss immediate next steps and reiterate the Starbucks commitment to treat everyone respectfully. He took full ownership for this event like a true leader should. He did not pass blame on the store employee because he is ultimately accountable.

This situation is a reminder that racial biases are alive and well in the U.S. We need to make a conscious effort to remain objective in our hiring practices, discipline actions, and termination decisions. Collaboration is key. Ask for input from trusted colleagues and your HR department if you are questioning your decisions and if you believe for any reason you may be biased.

How do you avoid unconscious bias in your organization?