Starbucks, mocked three years ago for suggesting employees discuss racial issues with customers, asked workers Tuesday to talk about race with each other. It was part of the coffee chain’s anti-bias training, created after the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks six weeks ago. The chain apologized but also took the dramatic step of closing its stores early for the sessions.
But still to be seen is whether the training, developed with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and other groups, will prevent another embarrassing incident.
“This is not science, this is human behavior,” said Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.
He called it the first step of many. The training was personal, asking workers to break into small groups to talk about their experiences with race. According to training materials provided by the company, they were also asked to pair up with a co-worker and list the ways they “are different from each other.” A guidebook reminds people to “listen respectfully” and tells them to stop any conversations that get derailed.
“I found out things about people that I’ve worked with a lot that I didn’t know,” said Carla Ruffin, a New York regional director at Starbucks, who took the training earlier Tuesday and was made available by the company to comment on it.
Ruffin, who is black, said everyone in her group said they first experienced bias in middle school.
“I just thought that was pretty impactful, that people from such diverse backgrounds, different ages, that it was all in middle school.”
The chain also lost sales from closing early, but the late-in-the-day training sessions meant no disruption to the busier morning hours. The training was not mandatory, but Starbucks said it expected almost all of the 175,000 employees at 8,000 stores to participate and said they would be paid for the full four hours. Executives took the same training last week in Seattle.