• margothovey

Racial Bias Training: What is the cost when it doesn’t happen?

Updated: Apr 26, 2018



This week the news was that Starbucks is going to shut its doors for a few hours to conduct racial bias training in over 8,000 US locations. I’ve scanned close to 50 articles covering the story. The theme is consistent: how much that closing will cost the company. What I want to know is, what will it cost not to do the training with the intention to shift the bias of the homogeneity.


First a look at the media coverage. The event has been covered by American and international news agencies. Twitter was a flurry of the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks distributing video and audio recordings of different actors, including the police and someone calling from that Starbucks location.


The response to the event also took to the street as people protested at the store. In fact, one of the news outlets claimed that the clergy were protesting with Black Lives Matter signs.

The narrative goes something like this: The two men were arrested after asking to use the restroom at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. An employee refused the request because the men had not bought anything. The men sat down and were asked to leave and an employee eventually called the police.


The CEO has apologized. The head of Branding has promised a shift towards an inclusive (safe and welcoming) environment for “every customer”. Do customers include those who want to use the facilities or don’t buy product?


The difference is treating each human being with respect and dignity.


Other media and content producers have commented on the cost of closing the 8,000 stores for a few hours of training. What I want to explore today is what the cost is not to do it? What are the implications on ROI, on the community, on the interactions with the customers, what the customers respond to those interactions, what is the transformative cost?


To begin this line of inquiry, the implications are evident in the brand or the felt experience of the culture of “store”. Starbucks has, in the past, positioned itself as a culture of informal gatherings. People are encouraged to bring their work, or reading material and hang out for a couple of hours. Coincidentally, my GP confided in me last week that he spends a few hours each night reading at Starbucks before he retires for the evening. This is his attempt at finding a work/life balance. He stands for the high end clientele.


It’s clear that if people are spending a few hours at a time in the store, most of them are spending money on the snacks and beverages that are sold there. At least those who have the disposable income to do so. All of a sudden, the neighbourhood coffee shop has transformed into an informal gathering place. The implications of human relations are key to the success and bottom line of the business. According to the NY Times, last year Starbucks profits totaled $14 billion. If 5 percent of that income was lost due to this event over 6 months while they regained their reputation that would amount to $350 million in lost income. In contrast, if staff were trained on how to react to all people respectfully in their stores that would be a terrific savings.


As well, how can we measure the implications to the community when a mainstream US brand is transformed to be a welcoming and inclusive environment? How do we measure the impact of other mainstream brands following suit? This is what I find fascinating and hopeful. What happens when social pressure makes it unacceptable to behave this way?


Recent research has provided evidence that Mindfulness training decreases the incidence of racial bias. Contact me now for mindfulness training for your employees, racial bias audits (of your policies and procedures) and benchmarking your progress towards inclusion at margot@margothoveyconsulting.com.

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© 2019 by Margot Hovey, PhD