Why Policy is Not Enough: A Lesson on Inclusion & Diversity

Posted on April 30, 2018

Why Policy is Not Enough: A Lesson on Inclusion & Diversity

A Lesson on Inclusion & Diversity

You have likely heard about the Starbucks incident in Philadelphia. If you haven’t, here is a quick synopsis: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, two black males, entered a Starbucks to wait for a friend. One of the males needed to use the washroom but was refused access on the basis that he did not make a purchase. The employee then told both men to leave. The men stayed put to wait for their friend, and in response, the employee called the police. Shortly after both men were arrested for “trespassing.”

The public response to this case of discrimination has been – understandably – outrage. The video of the event, which was captured on bystander’s smartphones, has gone viral. #BoycottStarbucks is trending on Twitter. Protests have occurred at Starbucks shops in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Chicago, just to name a few cities. The public has spoken: they will not tolerate such prejudice.

What Happens Now?

Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson did a lot of very positive things in handling the situation. He publicly apologized, denounced the treatment of Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson, fired the employee responsible, and announced the shutdown of 8,000 stores nationwide on May 29 for employee unconscious bias training.

However, many critics are saying one training session over the course of a few hours won’t prevent something like this from happening again.

We agree.

Although Starbucks has a clear policy that prohibits discrimination and harassment, there is no specific anti-discrimination or anti-harassment training when employees are onboarded, according to baristas. Similarly, staff does not receive training in inclusion and diversity, despite company policy promoting these principles.

While inclusion and diversity are hot topic words companies are using more frequently in their policies, failure to put these principles into action has severe consequences, as this situation has demonstrated. With no uniform training around inclusion or anti-discrimination practices, employees don’t have a clear standard to which they are held accountable.

It’s Not Just Starbucks

It’s important to note that Starbucks is not the only company that has faced public and legal backlash due to an employee acting in a prejudicial manner.

Denny’s, which like Starbucks has a zero tolerance for discrimination policy, came under fire in September 2017 when a waiter in Washington demanded a group of black males to pay for their meals in advance. The incident was shared by a bystander via Facebook and garnered over 20,000 reactions along with widespread criticism of the restaurant chain.

In a similar situation, a waitress at an IHOP in Maine asked a group of black teenagers to pre-pay for their meals. A customer who witnessed this and challenged the waitress shared the incident on social media. After the situation went viral, the restaurant shut down to re-train their employees.

Preventing Discrimination Through Inclusion & Diversity Training

The recent Starbucks incident has prompted many questions, just like the incidents of discriminatory and prejudicial behavior that occurred in businesses before that.

How could something like this occur? How can such a thing be prevented from happening again?

Ultimately, businesses are responsible for setting employee expectations and developing, training, and reinforcing employee conduct that does not discriminate. Companies must get serious about prioritizing and remaining committed to diversity and inclusion as a key initiative. Inclusion language in policy does not translate into inclusion employees.

Companies need comprehensive inclusion strategies instead of one-off unconscious bias training, to ensure staff is properly equipped to conduct customer service without bias, prejudice or discrimination. Training that specifically addresses race and ethnicity, gender, cultural differences, and even generational differences need to be provided during onboarding, and a clear standard of behavior should be set.

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2 Responses to “Why Policy is Not Enough: A Lesson on Inclusion & Diversity”

  • The problem is in the tying of restrooms to money. A public café bears the burden of maintaining publically-accessible restrooms as part of its social contract with its community. A policy regulating use based on commerce is discrimination simply waiting to happen. Any restaurant will have to remove or bar certain problematic people from time to time, whether involving restrooms or not, which should always be a last resort in maintaining orderly operation. I don’t see a worker retraining issue as much as a corporate policymaking one.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Bernie. I’m not sure I completely understand what you mean by “corporate policy”. Do you mean a restroom policy that allows only paying customers? I believe (though I don’t know for certain) that that already is a Starbucks policy, but the issue is staff members deciding to enforce it only at certain times, for certain people (hence the need for education and training on diversity and inclusion).

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