Dozens of Starbucks customers were caught off-guard by the May 29 mandatory half-day unconscious bias training for employees that shut down some 8,000 company-owned locations nationwide.
Some tried to open the closed doors at a Starbucks location on Michigan Avenue in Chicago; others said they forgot the training was the day following Memorial Day as they read the “See you tomorrow” signs posted in the store window.
One Starbucks customer at the Michigan Avenue location who asked not to be named had forgotten the closure was May 29 but knew about the mandatory training. She said the training is good for employees, though she was unsure if all companies should provide a similar training.
“It depends [on whether the training is] constructive and productive … . [The exercises] during the training should focus on the systems of oppression,” she said.
Another customer visiting Chicago from New York, who also asked not to be named, said the training sounded like a “public relations stunt.” She added that she respects Starbucks more than before for doing this, however. “At least they are doing something,” she said.
The mandatory unconscious bias training comes a month after two African American men were arrested for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks in mid-April.
According to Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz in an open letter to customers posted the day of training, the manager at the Philadelphia store had called police a few minutes after the two men arrived and sat waiting for a friend. The two men had not purchased anything, which, according to company policy, meant they were not customers.
Since then, Starbucks has changed its policy to allow people to use its restrooms and spend time in its stores without first buying something.
“This incident has prompted us to reflect more deeply on all forms of bias, the role of our stores in communities and our responsibility to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Starbucks,” Schultz said.
The training was to be provided to 175,000 employees, according to Schultz. They will be “sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong — because they do.”
Elena Richards, U.S. Minority Initiatives and Talent Management Leader for the Office of Diversity at HR consultancy PwC, who could not speak specifically to Starbucks’ training, said unconscious bias training should be mandatory as it educates companies and organizations and is a step in the right direction.
“[People] typically rely on their gut, [but unconscious bias education will help] make better future decisions [and show them] the blind spots used in everyday behavior,” Richards said.
Starbucks released a preview of its May 29 training curriculum on May 23. The training was scheduled to include a recorded message from rapper Common and clips from an award-winning documentary titled “You’re Welcome” by Stanley Nelson. Starbucks has received help from multiple experts in the field and has stated that there is more training scheduled in the future.
Victor Espinoza, a recent former employee of Starbucks who worked for the company for five years in two different locations, said in an email interview he thought the training is good for employees.
“This is definitely something every employee should go through,” he said. “I believe that that this training should be given to everyone the moment they get hired to any company, but especially in customer service. They shouldn’t have to close because this training should’ve been given to everyone the moment they got hired with the company, but just to get everyone on the same page at this point it is necessary to close.”
He added: “I do respect Starbucks more because they admitted their mistake and are working to fix this issue in the company.”
PwC’s Richards noted that unconscious bias education is about “building a muscle and more awareness.”
Rocio Villaseñor is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.