Starbucks Closes to Serve “Racial-Bias Education” to Employees


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website

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17 Responses

  1. Thanks for putting these articles together. (I read the excerpts you provided, but not the whole of any of the articles.) Here are a few comments from me:

    1. Closing the store for an afternoon is a gimmick or at least a public relations ploy. Maybe as gimmicks/ploys go, it’s a good one, and it probably sends the messages that “we’re doing something” and more important that “this is something people in general should take seriously.”

    2. If Starbucks is really framing this as a Civil Rights issue, then it’s probably a good thing. But the devil is always in the details.

    3. A person in one of the quoted articles “attempts to solve this problem [of bias] using highly lifelike avatars to simulate real-life interactions. ‘You want to give people reps around stressful circumstances,’….” My question would be “how real-life”? To often in training videos, etc., I’ve had to watch, the “real-life” examples come off as very canned approaches.

    4. The last article quotes someone who argues for limiting discretion. There’s probably a lot of merit to that approach. But two points

    4a) What I understand Starbucks’s new policy to be would actually increase discretion, not limit it. As I understand it, prior to the new policies, stores could adopt simpler rules, such as “you have to buy something to stay here.” That rule, assuming it’s applied consistently, limits discretion, at least for workers at the shop level. The new policy, however, forbids that rule. Or, at least I assume it does. I also assume that the new policy still permits stores to make people leave if they’re causing a disturbance. Determining who is “causing a disturbance” is much more discretion-laden than the theoretically discretion-limiting rule the shops presumably can’t make any more. Of course, the old “you have to buy something to stay here” rule (in the shops where it applied) could be subject to abuse, so that, for example, the workers still have to decide whether to challenge a non-purchasing “customer” or to decide “not to notice” that person.

    4b) Consistent with the last sentence from 4a, discretion can never be limited entirely and limitations on discretion can create new, sometimes subterranean, forms of discretion. One example, taken far afield from whatever it is Starbucks is trying to do, is “zero tolerance” plagiarism policies in colleges. I’ve known (ahem) at least one TA who sometimes preferred to work with the student who committed minor plagiarism* to correct their plagiarism instead of “officially noticing” the plagiarism reporting (as was required) the student to the instructor of record, who would then be required to report to some academic honesty board.

    *”minor” is a term of art here, but one example I offer is a student taking a small paragraph from the assigned textbook without putting quotes around it or attributing the source. I can forgive a TA for believing this incident wouldn’t be a good reason to flunk someone from a class and create an “incident” on whatever record the academic honesty folks kept.Report

    • To put on my manager/supervisor/leadership hat on for a minute: there is a corporate issue here where your managers and supervisors now have a mixed message to deal with. Your point on discretion is well made, and they may internally be dealing with their leadership differently than this PR, but you cannot hold them responsible (firing the person in Philadelphia) and simultaneously say we are decreasing discretion while implementing a policy requiring more of it. No matter the policies, a lot of these things is going to be snap judgement calls by the manager/supervisor there in the moment. You need clear policy and them to know you back them up if they follow it. We will see if this does that.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Remember when they had baristas write “#racetogether” on the cups?

    Good times.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think Starbucks has noble intentions but these are probably not going to do well. I don’t thinking closing stores for a day is a PR gimmick but something that is going to cost them a lot of money. Yes it does give them progressive kudos though.Report

  4. Avatar pillsy says:

    ResistanceHole is finally starting to earn its keep..Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I would have figured it would have been better for Starbucks to provide *anti-* racial bias education, but I never did go for that MBA, so maybe the execs know something I don’t.

    (but yeah, this seems very much like an all-hands safety stand down that percolates up every so often in the military)Report

    • That article doesn’t seem to support your claim. I vaguely remember the Chipotle incident, but at least according to the way that article relates it, it was a pretty good PR move for Chipotle. Whether it was worse than what Starbucks is doing, I’m not sure. But it seems to have had a positive effect.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I was fond of the time Boeing shut down for an entire day to retrain it’s entire workforce on conflict of interest. (Which stemmed from them “acquiring” a competitor’s bid for a government contract, then winning said contract, then having the whole “oops, we somehow got their whole bid” come out, then instantly losing the contract and having to retrain if they wanted to bid on any more contracts…)

      And of course a company I once worked for spent a nice half-day retraining everyone and their dog on export-control, because oops, someone “accidentally” sold China some stuff they shouldn’t.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Morat20 says:

        I love it when a top executive does something terrible and they make everybody down to the janitors take training to show that they’re doing something.

        “Not embezzling $30 million in company money to spend on private yachts and cocaine is something we’ll all just have to work on together.”Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

          Well, I know both Boeing’s “oops” and the export-control “oops” mandated corporation wide training as part of the settlement and as a condition for being able to qualify for future government work.

          Last I checked, the fines for export-control violations were actually nudging up there into territory that actually makes CEO’s notice. (UTC, for instance, famously got slapped with a 100+ million fine for doing some engine design work on Chinese attack copters. Their fig leaf was pretty hilarious, akin to doing some design work on a Saturn V engine and then claiming you thought you were working on a hobbyist rocket) .Report