On May 29, 8,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S. were closed as employees underwent ‘anti-bias’ training. Here in Canada, however, stores remained open—but similar employee training sessions are in the works.
On June 11, Starbucks Canada will close all of their company-operated stores and offices for the afternoon as staff undergo training to prevent implicit bias. They’ll also be learning how to do the opposite—what the coffee giant is calling “conscious inclusion”—and how to create a culture of “warmth and belonging,” according to a statement from Starbucks Canada president Michael Conway.
We believe everyone should be treated with respect & want to ensure everyone in a Starbucks store feels safe & welcome. On 6/11 we will close all Canadian company-operated stores & offices for the afternoon to hold implicit bias & conscious inclusion sessions with our partners. pic.twitter.com/ARyXkgkq1r
— Starbucks Canada (@StarbucksCanada) May 4, 2018
The staff training is a direct response to an incident that took place at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April, where two Black men were led away in handcuffs after a store manager called the cops because they were sitting at a table without purchasing anything. (The men had also been denied use of the washroom; it turns out they were just waiting for another person to join them.)
A customer in the shop caught the whole thing on camera and footage subsequently went viral, setting off heated discussions online about racial profiling. In response to the backlash, the CEO of Starbucks personally went to Philly to apologize to the men—who had been held in jail for several hours before being released without charges—and announced these store closures for training for its 175,000 employees. The Seattle-based corporation also changed its policy so that anyone who wanted to would be able to use the restroom, purchase optional. For their part, the two men involved in the ugly incident have reached a settlement with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and an assurance that $200,000 will be set aside to encourage young entrepreneurs in the area.
Following the U.S. training, Starbucks released the curriculum in full on their website. You can take a look here, but the TL;DR version is that employees split off into small groups and are given an iPad and a workbook. They use the device to watch 21 (!) short videos while working through the book together. Several of the vids feature the rapper Common, one is a short doc on the history of public spaces by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, and others are hosted by senior Starbucks executives. Topics for discussion include “Seeing Your Own Bias,” as well as a series of scenarios, like “Customer With Thick Accent,” “Confusion About a Customer’s Gender” and “Woman With A Dirty Cup Asks For A Refill.” It ends with a commitment from the company to “stick with it,” and to begin a “conversation about the structures and systems that make up this country.”
Reaction from American employees who have already underwent the training has been mixed. One Florida-based employee told The Cut that it was “waste of four hours” and “the training… didn’t really give specifics of how to approach certain situations, or how [Starbucks] planned as a company to include everyone.” A California-based employee, however, told Time that the training moved her to tears and that she felt like she gained a new level of understanding with her co-workers. The general reaction seems to have been positive—but most wonder what difference it will truly make in the day-to-day operations.
FLARE reached out to Starbucks Canada for more information on how the training will work when they close 1,100 stores next week. A spokesperson confirmed that it would be the same curriculum and re-iterated the American messaging: “This is a journey. Our goal through the long-term effort is to maintain a welcoming Starbucks experience for everyone. This conversation will continue and become part of how we train our partners going forward.”
Stay tuned for more coverage following the June 11 Canadian training sessions.