5 Steps to Avoid the Starbucks Nightmare


I feel sorry for Starbucks.  Sort of.  

The racism and unconscious bias at play in the recent situation where two black entrepreneurs were arrested while waiting for their business associate is not limited to Starbucks.  It’s not limited to the police.  It is pervasive and endemic to American society.  You see it in the disproportionate number of Black children arrested at school; of Black girls suspended for subjective reasons such as attitude.  You see it in disparate health outcomes and treatments.  Racial discrimination abounds in housing purchases and rentals.  It’s way beyond Starbucks.

However, it is Starbucks’s responsibility to deliver on their mission as published in 2015:  “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.”  The problem is to deliver on this promise to people of color, Starbucks must actively promote anti-racism.

Here’s the challenge to all of us:  If your business does not actively promote racial equity and inclusion, it will passively promote racism and bias.  And, eventually, you will come up short or find that your racist slip is showing.

I like Starbucks’ decision to close every store in May to train every single employee in unconscious bias.  It’s a start.  But, it’s not enough.

Here’s my two cents.  Whether you are a huge retailer or a solo-preneur, here are 5 steps you can take to protect your brand, grow your business, and make the world a better place.

  1. Get clear and articulate your why:  How is racial diversity/inclusion/equity vital to your business; Promote that among your employees and leaders.
  2. Assess: how you currently serve people of color; how you build capacity among your staff owners to understand and implement inclusive practices; How racially diverse and skilled your staff is in dismantling systemic racism; use focus groups, surveys or other tools to find out how people of color experience you or your business
  3. Shift your Company Culture:   Put anti-bias procedures in place; invest in training for folks who hire employees; and ask yourself what would have to change to make your business welcoming and affirming to people of color
  4. Recruit a multi-racial team who will bring inclusion and systems change expertise to the job
  5. Retain: Cultivate leaders of color who are loyal to your business; mentor and continually expand their understanding of the wider contexts of their functions.