Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX)’s Troubles Can Be a Test for Anti-Bias Training: Does It Work?

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On Tuesday, Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) announced that it’s more than 8,000 stores will be closed on May 29 to allow the company undertake racial bias training. The move comes in response to a video which was circulating last week and showed two black men being arrested in the company’s store in Philadelphia for trespassing. The men had requested the store to allow them use the restroom but they were told it is only available to paying customers. They then decided to rest in the café as they waited for a meeting with a representative from a real estate company. The store manager called the police because he thought they were causing disturbance.

The incidence caused a public outcry and calls to boycott the company’s coffee. In response, the company’s CEO Kevin Johnson offered an apology and promised that appropriate action will be taken. In a press release, he said that they will be closing the stores to undertake racial bias training. He noted that this is just one step in a journey which requires a lot of determination and dedication at all levels of the company’s operations as well as partnership from the local communities.

The company plans to take its 175,000 employees through an implicit bias training. The training refers to the notion that, without knowing, label others based on their gender, race as well as other identifiers. The idea has attracted a lot of interest in mainstream understandings of race relations, partly because of the popularity of the Implicit Association Test (IAT). IAT was developed at Harvard and measures biases by placing subjects under pressure before they make associations.

According to Howard Ross, the Co-Founder of Cook Ross diversity inclusion consulting company, IAT allows one to know how their life experiences have helped them make connections. Cook Ross recently worked with Starbucks. Ross however warns that it should not be used by employees as “report card for the soul” but instead use it as tool to better understand how biases work mentally. He advises that it is better and effective to use IAT for conducting some foundational training.

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