There undoubtedly is a need for general cultural competence training, said Steve Humerickhouse, executive director of The Forum on Workplace Inclusion
at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
In this case, training also should include experiential learning on what it's like for people of color to live in a world "where they must always be aware of the suspicion others have for them, to be profiled and watched because crime or disruption is expected of them," he said in an e-mail to SHRM Online
"Starbucks can go a long way in educating 175,000 employees about what it means to be a person of color in the U.S., especially if those employees take that training to heart and share it with their extended friends and family. The impact can ripple out from Philadelphia to the whole country."
Brittany Packnett, whom President Barack Obama cited as someone "whose voice is going to be making a difference" for her work toward social justice and social change, tweeted that accountability must follow training.
"If the training is not followed up by clear measurements and employee expectations—connected directly to job performance—then one day [of training] won't make much difference," the vice president for national community alliances at Teach for America
tweeted. Training "can't be watered down, and it can't be undermined by lax expectations post-training."
National Experts Tapped
Starbucks announced that its training curriculum—which it will make available to other companies—will be designed by nationally recognized experts
- Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. The private, nonprofit organization provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.
- Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Washington, D.C.
- Heather McGhee, president of Demos, a public-policy organization in New York City.
- Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Last year, he led an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of female employees at Uber—the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company. The company adopted all of Holder's recommendations.
- Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York City and a senior fellow at the Wharton School in Philadelphia.
In a statement on the NAACP website, Ifill said that Starbucks must "make clear that it does not tolerate any racial profiling or discrimination of any kind in its stores, and it must identify and implement concrete and measurable steps to keep itself accountable to that commitment."
In an interview with NPR, she said she will provide guidance to Starbucks to ensure that "what they do undertake is rigorous and is likely to produce real results" and will be modeled by other companies.
"This can't be a one-off
," she told NPR. "Racism is deeply entrenched in our society, and any real effort to confront it means being in it for the long haul," and that includes monitoring the effectiveness of the training, she added.
The big question is, will training 175,000 Starbucks employees work, said Lori Armstrong Halber, an attorney with national labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips in Philadelphia.
"At the most tactical level, training to combat discrimination is most effective when it's interactive and in-person," she said in an e-mail. "The primary point of training is not to defend against litigation. For the training to take hold in a meaningful way, the driving impetus of the training should be culture change."
Effectiveness comes with follow-through on the training, and changing culture "from the top down and bottom up through continued monitoring, feedback, and being present in stores, as well as secondary mechanisms such as corporate responsibility programs [and] community outreach," according to Rick Grimaldi, a partner at Fisher Phillips in Philadelphia.
Ross cautioned people not to react reflexively with protests and threats of boycotts.
"Even the best organizations, the best communities, the best families have times when something happens," he said. Starbucks has made it clear, he noted, that the company is putting training "ahead of their bottom line" by closing stores for racial-bias training.