What Did Starbucks Employees Think Of Racial Bias Training?

Some of the criticism of Starbucks’ racial-bias training course was pretty harsh as one Florida-based employee said it was "a waste of four hours."

Close-up of baristas preparing drinks at Starbucks.

Following Starbucks’ highly-anticipated racial-bias training on Tuesday, several employees across the nation have spilled the beans to reporters about how things really went.

The training, which caused 8,000 Starbucks locations to close for an afternoon, came about following the arrests of two innocent black men at a Philadelphia store for sitting inside the establishment without ordering anything while they waited for a business associate.

For four hours, about 175,000 employees of the coffee chain watched informational videos on workplace discrimination and participated in group discussions about race, identity, and privilege. Starbucks released the course curriculum to the public online by Tuesday night.

It would seem that many of the employees who went through the training would agree that the intent and effort were in the right place, but, perhaps, the execution missed the mark.

An African-American employee at a Hollywood-based location identified only as Jason noted that the curriculum and educational materials didn’t bring many nuances to the discussion around race relations.

“Helpful? [I don’t know],” Jason said to Time. “It kinda reaffirms things that I know already.”

He also said that the session focused heavily on the informational videos rather than the employees, themselves.

“It seems like a lot of talking from the videos,” he added, “and not enough discussion from us.”

Mohamed Abdi, an employee from a location in Alexandria, Virginia, echoed Jason’s sentiments.

“Honestly I think they should have more hands-on courses speaking to different people and customers to figure out where they’re coming from,” he said.

“It’s easy sitting through something and saying you learned something than actually learning something from the course,” he added.

At least two other employees expressed concerns over the course’s failure to be truly inclusive by highlighting interactions between people of all different races as opposed to just black and white.

Alicia, who works at a San Jose, California, Starbucks, said that as a Mexican woman, she was expecting the course to explore scenarios involving people from various backgrounds, but, instead, it focused mainly on the “white barista-young black male customer interaction.”

Another employee who works at a Minnesota location and asked to remain anonymous said, “The training only really covered how to not be racist towards African-Americans. Don’t get me wrong, that needed to be addressed, but a lot of the baristas at my store hoped it would touch base on other forms of discrimination toward POC and marginalized people.”

Some of the criticism of the course was much harsher as one Florida-based employee said it was "a waste of four hours." 

"I am half Mexican and grew up in poverty, so diversity, bias, and judgment are things I’m familiar with," the unnamed employee said. "So for me, the training seemed very repetitive. It talked about the bias and racism towards mostly black people, but others as well, even though there are laws that should be preventing this."

The same employee also expressed frustration with the fact that the course did not really address how to handle situations when customers are the ones exhibiting discriminatory and racist behavior. 

"Another thing that upset me was that they expect us to always be on and be welcoming even when customers don’t treat us with respect and dignity in return. There have been instances in certain stores where I have worked where customers have threatened partners or even yelled at partners based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, and oftentimes higher-ups don’t stand up for that partner," the employee said.

The training also introduced the term "color brave," which is meant to be the reverse of the concept of being “color-blind” in reference to race.

In a video played at the start of each session, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson explained the origins of the term.

“Growing up, there was a term called ‘color-blind,’ which described a learning behavior of pretending not to notice race — that doesn't even make sense,” Johnson said. “So today we are starting a new journey, talking about race directly — what my friend and Starbucks board member Mellody Hobson calls being ‘color brave.’”

However, some employees found the terminology offensive and tone-deaf.

“They told us we need to be ‘color brave’ instead of color-blind, and it was the whitest thing I’ve ever heard,” Alicia said. “Me and my coworkers of color felt uncomfortable the entire time.”

During the four-hour block that the course took place, Starbucks likely lost approximately $12 million, according to USA Today’s estimates. That is quite a lot of money to lose for the sake of a poorly-executed training. However, Tuesday’s session marked the beginning of a long-term effort in which the company hopes to continue working toward combating racial bias.

Before the training began, Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz announced that the company plans to globalize this initiative and start including similar training in the on-boarding process for new hires.

While they may not have perfectly hit the nail on the head this time around, Tuesday was hopefully just the first step in Starbucks' ongoing journey to becoming a more welcoming and inclusive establishment for all of its employees and customers alike.

 Banner/Thumbnail Credits: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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