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.
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.
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, the 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 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 its employees.
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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Outside of her passion for writing and international travel, she has a deep appreciation for working for a company that helps build bridges across cultures. Tessah studied in France and Russia before going to post-secondary and receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. She conducted policy research abroad in Daejeon, South Korea, before receiving her Master’s Degree in Intercultural and International Communication. Tessah completed her Master’s residency at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China and currently resides in Vancouver, BC.