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Starbucks CEO Calls for Unconscious Bias Training

A starbucks coffee sign hangs from the side of a building.

The arrest of two black men for trespassing when they refused to leave a Starbucks in Philadelphia last week has sparked national outrage. The chain's CEO has promised to review company policies and procedures and implement unconscious bias training.

One of the men had asked to use the coffee shop's restroom but was told it was for paying customers only and the men had not purchased anything. They were waiting for a friend and remained at the store. Police arrived after employees called 911. The men were arrested and handcuffed as their friend arrived. They were released when Starbucks did not press charges.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he asked the city's Commission on Human Relations to examine Starbucks' policies and procedures, "including the extent of, or need for, implicit bias training for its employees."

SHRM Online has collected the following stories from its archives and other sources on the topic of unconscious bias and discriminatory conduct.  

Two Black Men Were Arrested at Starbucks. CEO Now Calling for 'Unconscious Bias' Training. 

The chief executive of Starbucks on Monday called for "unconscious bias" training for store managers and unequivocally apologized for what he called "reprehensible" circumstances that led to the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia store. Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks' chief operating officer, reiterated the call for unconscious bias training among store managers in a morning interview with NPR and called the incident a "teachable moment for all of us." She said that as an African-American executive with a 23-year-old African-American son, the video was painful to watch.
(Washington Post)   

Starbucks Is Latest Retailer Facing Charges of Discriminatory Conduct 

Last month, Applebee's fired three employees after they were involved in the racial profiling of two black women who, while they ate dinner at the Independence, Mo., restaurant, were falsely accused of skipping out without paying their bill the previous day.

An IHOP in Auburn, Maine, apologized after a server asked a group of black teens to pay upfront for their meal; the restaurant had had problems with teens leaving without paying in the past.

And in January, a black man alleged that he had been racially profiled at an Old Navy store in West Des Moines, Iowa, when asked to prove he had purchased the Old Navy jacket he was wearing.
(USA Today)  

[SHRM members-only policy: Diversity Policy]   

Getting Unconscious Bias into Your Company's Consciousness 

Unconscious biases, which can unintentionally affect hiring decisions in the workplace, can be the cause of big problems. Unconscious bias in the hiring process—or even the appearance of that bias—puts employers at risk of being sued for discrimination.

And in the Starbucks case, it can even impact a company's customers and reputation. 
(Fisher Phillips newsletter)  

3 Steps for Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work  

What you don't know about implicit bias can hurt you—and your company. This form of prejudice, known as unconscious bias, occurs when individuals make judgments at least partially influenced by gender, race or other prohibited factors without realizing they have done so, usually based on societal stereotypes or their own personal experiences.

The question is what to do about it. How do you address something you don't even know might be happening?
(HR Magazine)  

Starbucks CEO Apologizes, Calls Arrests 'Reprehensible' 

In a letter and a video, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized after two black men were arrested after refusing requests to leave a Philadelphia store where they had not made a purchase. Johnson's apologies extended to the men as well as to customers and the community.

In the video, he noted that the blame for the occurrence—which he called "reprehensible"—rests with him, not the manager of the store where it occurred. 

"This is a management issue and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome," he said in the video.  He vowed to do everything he can to make sure this never happens again.

In a letter to Starbucks customers and partners issued prior to the video, Johnson wrote that staff will be trained "to better know when police assistance is warranted" and it will host a company-wide meeting in coming days to discuss immediate next steps and "underscore our long-standing commitment to treating one another with respect and dignity." 

Black Men Arrested at Philadelphia Starbucks Agree to Meet with CEO 

The two black men who were arrested at the Starbucks in Philadelphia last week have agreed to meet with company CEO Kevin Johnson. Johnson said he would like to apologize to them face to face.

He said he wanted to speak with them "so that I can ensure that we have opportunity to really understand the situation and show some compassion and empathy for the experience they went through," he said. "Finally, as we're working to solve this, I'd like to invite them to join me in finding a constructive way to solve this issue."

He said the company stands against discrimination and racial profiling.

"I've been very focused on understanding what guidelines and what training ever let this happen," he said. "What happened was wrong, and we will fix it." 

Viewpoint: With a New Apology, Starbucks's CEO Just Taught an Important Lesson in Leadership 

Many are criticizing Starbucks for the way it handled a recent incident in which two African American men ended up getting arrested at a Philadelphia store.

In an incident like this, it's easy to blame the employee or store manager. But firing one or two employees can easily be seen as an attempt to create a scapegoat and push larger issues under the rug. The public will only remember how Starbucks got two black men arrested for sitting in their store.

The CEO's expressed desire to assume responsibility and take the lead in immediately moving the company forward is the right thing to do. That's what true leadership is all about—assuming ownership in good times and bad. 

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