What does it mean to run a customer-centric company? It means putting the customer’s needs first.
Starbucks failed to do this on April 12th at a store in Philadelphia where Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both black men, were waiting for a business associate until the store manager called the police. Nelson and Robinson had been in the store less than 10 minutes when police arrived and led them out of the store.
In response, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores in the United States on May 29 for training and conversations about bias and inclusion. The session, called “The Third Place: Our Commitment Renewed” was created under the guidance of national experts including Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. It’s the first of what will be ongoing sessions.
At the Starbucks Support Center, the company’s headquarters in Seattle where 6,000 partners work, the doors were also closed and signs posted. Meetings were canceled. No tours were scheduled or visitors allowed. The usually busy hallways were empty as partners went through the training on their computers and then met in groups for roundtable discussions.
This short film by Stanley Nelson, which was part of the educational offering that day, explores the impact of bias within public accommodations as well as the possibilities for a better future.
I am horrified that any company would need to provide this level of basic education to its team. At the same time, I am glad someone is doing something to fill in the gaps. Our schools have been underfunded and under attack for far too long.
Starbucks has its critics. Hina Tai, Associate Director of Research at The Islamic Monthly, writing in The Guardian, argues, “Implicit bias workshops have become nothing more than a neoliberal PR stunt for both corporations attempting to avoid legal liability.”
What about the coffee giant’s intention to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years? Is this commitment also lame, fake, or totally contrived?
It’s easy to criticize. On the other hand, it is hard to take necessary steps to fix a problem. I’m with Starbucks all the way on their inclusivity effort, and everything else it does to live its brand truth.
Another important outcome from the Philly mistake is the chain’s policy adjustment on bathrooms. “We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than. We want you to be more than,” Howard Schultz said.