Central to the conversation around Starbucks decision to mass-train almost 175,000 U.S. employees on unconscious racial bias and incorporate the curriculum into its new-hire onboarding is the question of whether or not such training would have prevented what happened in Philadelphia and the fallout Starbucks is now trying to minimize.
Not without a focus on behavior versus bias and a measurable link to employee performance, say customer-service and diversity experts.
“I believe, and the science suggests, that you cannot remove or eliminate bias because it’s a natural and normal function of the human brain,” says Gerry Fernandez, founder and president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), whose group regularly conducts diversity workshops for quick-service companies such as McDonald’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Firehouse Subs, Wingstop, and Sodexo. “You can, however train people to recognize unconscious bias and learn to change their behavior that will result in improved customer service.”
According to the research of diversity non-profit Catalyst, programs capable of changing biased behavior not only define what unconscious bias looks like in practice, but also offer actionable strategies using real-world examples.
Multicultural-sales expert Michael Lee of EthnoConnect takes it even a step further.
“My question for the trainers working with Starbucks is ‘What’s in it for frontline staff to change the behavior,’” Lee says. “You have to be able to tell them what’s in it for them.”
For its diversity-training program to successfully impact customer-service, Lee says, a company has to make clear and measure the connection between how frontline employees treat customers and how customers buy.
“Companies spend millions targeting multicultural customers, but people come in, don’t like the service, and they never come back,” Lee says. “It’s a waste of millions, and marketing and R&D get blamed when really all they need to do is train their frontline staff on how not to insult multicultural customers.”
Employee communication and conflict resolution expert Laura MacLeod views what happened at the Philadelphia Starbucks through the eyes of an hourly employee charged with enforcing a no-loitering policy.
“You need to be watching the entrance and floor of the store throughout the shift, taking note of who has coffee, who's waiting for an order to be filled, who's holding a spot for friend in line,” MacLeod explains. “This is not easy.”
What we do not see in DePino’s mobile video is how Hylton approached the two men or their response to her. But results suggest something when awry.
“At any point in the interaction things might have been turned around with an apology, smile, appropriate empathetic statement,” MacLeod says. “Those skills should be taught and practiced if workers are to manage difficult situations effectively.”
Teaching those skills, she says, looks like running through possible scenarios, encouraging questions, training staffers to support each other when tensions start to rise.