Is Starbucks Diversity Training a waste of time?

Starbucks are closing 8000 stores in the USA today to give all their employees 4 hours in unconscious bias training. This was a reaction to an incident in one of their stores where two black entrepreneurs who had setup a business meeting in Starbucks had first been refused entry to the toilet and then had police called to remove them after they didn’t order a drink immediately (they were waiting for the people they’d invited to the meeting to arrive).

Aside from the incident from a Learning and Training point of view there is an interesting discussion to be had on whether this is an effective response to the incident and also what relevance this has to us in our companies?

On one hand I would normally say organising a one off workshop is not an effective way to solve a problem or to change a culture, it’s very easy for everyone to attend their 4 hours training, go back to work the next day and forget about everything. Sitting for 4 hours is certainly not always an effective use of time and the only proven ways of learning and changing how people work are a combination repetition, reflection and actually trying things out in your day to day life.

On the other hand another key factor in bringing about change to company values and work practices is leadership and a strong clear message coming from leaders. This is an undeniably strong reaction by Starbucks and an immense commitment to close down 8000 stores. It makes a physical statement and sometimes that statement is more valuable than anything else.

I hope and assume that Starbucks are not limiting their response to 4 hours training. 4 hours training by itself is not enough, but if it’s part of a larger program to promote this agenda then they will probably go a long way to changing how their employees think and work.

How does this reflect to us in our workplaces? Rather than tell you what to think here are some questions on various themes for you to think about!

  • How open are we to different cultures, languages, religions and backgrounds?
  • How welcoming are we to all of the above groups?
  • What biases do we have when we work with our colleagues, external companies, colleagues from other office locations, colleagues from other countries or backgrounds?
  • How often do we try and solve a problem with our culture or way of working with a meeting or a task force rather than trying to change our culture?
  • How often do we pass on problems down in the organisation rather than take a leadership decision and make our values clear?

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Published by D Needlestone


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