Starbucks staff to undergo mandatory unconscious bias training

Coffee chain to close thousands of US stores for an afternoon of training in the wake of racism allegations.

Starbucks' CEO Kevin Johnson has announced that 8,000 of its US based outlets will cease operations for an entire afternoon next month whilst staff undergo racial bias training. The measure, which is set to cost the firm an estimated $20 million, comes amid mounting claims of race discrimination following an incident in a Philadelphia store.

News broke last week that two black males, who were waiting in the store for a friend to arrive without having made a purchase, were arrested for trespassing when the store manager called the police. This was met with widespread indignation, sparking protests and repeated calls to boycott the coffee giant.

Starbucks have announced the training program will look to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion and prevent discrimination. Johnson intends for around 175,000 current Starbucks staff to undergo this training, as well as all future employees.

Implicit or unconscious bias describes the automatic associations individuals have towards certain groups of people which can manifest itself into prejudiced and discriminatory behaviour towards customers, colleagues or employees. Unconscious bias can exist in various stages of the employment relationship, particularly during recruitment. It is recommended to employ a policy of blind recruitment where personal information such as an applicant’s name, gender, ethnicity and age are hidden, meaning decisions on who to invite for an interview are based solely on capability. When it comes to the interview itself it is beneficial to have least two interviewers present when assessing potential employees to protect against any unconscious bias. Decisions on promotions and bonuses are also at risk of unconscious bias, to counter this a clear decision making framework should be constructed for employee’s performances to be assed against. These measures will help to ensure workplace equality and avoid claims of discrimination.

Whilst many support the training process Starbucks are undertaking, it is well recognised that further efforts are required to reduce discrimination occuring within the workplace. Creating an equality and diversity policy can outline an organisations commitment to promoting equal opportunities and to safeguarding against harassment. It is also vital that organisations have an effective grievance reporting procedure to ensure employees feel confident enough to report any incidents of discrimination be they unconscious or otherwise.

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