An open letter to Starbucks' Executive Chairman Howard Schultz

Dear Mr. Schultz,

My name is Tania. I am an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant. I have worked closely with organizations that want to be inclusive and have had to deal with racially charged circumstances with their employees, customers and clients.

I have had many cups of Starbucks over the years and I've spent plenty of time in your stores. I haven't stepped foot in one since the young Black men were arrested at your store in Philadelphia though. It's not an official boycott but I just don't feel comfortable.

I appreciate that you apologized on behalf of your corporation and reiterated that you did not think the men should have been arrested for entering the Starbucks and waiting for their friend before they made a purchase. While the decision to close all your stores on May 29th for the afternoon shows that you take what happened seriously I must challenge what you hope to accomplish.

Though you say, "The announcement we made yesterday about closing our stores, 8,000 stores closed, to do significant training with our people is just the beginning of what we will do to transform the way we do business and educate our people on unconscious bias," I take issue with the idea that you think "significant" training can be done in that first session. 

Here's what I would say if you hired me.

"You can't do significant unconscious bias training in an afternoon."

One of my specialties as a EDI Consultant is anticipating and helping to manage the emotional response individuals will have when confronted with their own bias. Owning one's bias is a process that takes years if not a lifetime to complete. Some people will never be convinced. Whether they are convinced or not there is usually a great deal of defensiveness, tears and emotional retreating that occurs in process.

When people are confronted with their own bias in a public setting among peers (in this case co-workers) the defensiveness, tears and emotional retreating affects everyone around them. Some people are forced to "take care" of those people. Others are put in a position of proving their value or setting aside their own feelings for the sake of diffusing the palpable emotion in the room. This dynamic doesn't contribute to inclusion and often alienates participants unintentionally.

Here's what I recommend instead:

"On May 29th reinforce policies and clarify consequences."

"Use the afternoon to focus on what your employees must do not on how they feel."

The time leading up to May 29th is when Starbucks can shore up its policies on customers who don't purchase anything but want to sit in the store. On May 29th use the time to make sure that your employees are clear on whether customers are allowed to sit down before a purchase and whether they can use the restroom without a purchase. Consequences for a deviation from the policy must be communicated and put into practice without exception.

"If you reinforce your policies and communicated them to the public I'd feel more comfortable going into a Starbucks again."

If you want to do some basic racial bias training on May 29th there must be time for individuals to process the information and procedures put in place to support them before they are sent back out to deal with co-workers and the general public. Since you have only allotted an afternoon don't try it. It's a Pandora's Box you won't be able to close in 5 hours and the assumption that you can with all due respect is a sign of your own privilege.

With Sincerity,

Tania Richard

For a deep dive into issues surrounding the Starbucks incident and aftermath listen to my podcast Race Bait.  S2 Ep 19 A bitter cup at Starbucks

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