How Starbucks Can Make Its Massive Bias Training Count

How Starbucks Can Make Its Massive Bias Training Count

Last month, a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on a pair of black men who were waiting in the store for a business meeting and had yet to make any purchases. A cell phone video of the two men’s subsequent arrest, which also captured other patrons’ outrage over the incident as it happened, quickly went viral and prompted a nationwide conversation about the racial profiling that black Americans often face in places of business. For Starbucks, which has sought to establish itself one of America’s most progressive employers, it has created a crisis, raising questions about whether this was truly an isolated incident and whether the roughly 40 percent of Starbucks employees who identify as racial minorities have faced hostility or felt unwelcome in the workplace—as many Americans of color have indicated in surveys that they do.

In an unprecedented response, Starbucks quickly announced an ambitious initiative in which it will close all of its over 8,000 company-owned US stores on May 29 so that nearly 175,000 employees can attend an anti-bias training. By conveying that the company takes this matter seriously and is committed to addressing it, the announcement won the coffee chain praise in the world of public relations, but from the perspective of HR—and Diversity and Inclusion more specifically—the standards for success are much higher and more difficult to meet. To make this response count as more than a PR spectacle, Starbucks will need to demonstrate that it’s not just making the right kind of noise, but actually making meaningful changes that are tangible to its vast numbers of nonwhite customers and employees. Furthermore, whether the initiative succeeds or fails, it stands to have an impact far beyond this one company. The stakes are high and all eyes are on Starbucks.

From the D&I research team at CEB, now Gartner, here are some points Starbucks should keep in mind in designing and deploying this anti-bias initiative—and for HR leaders at other organizations to consider in their own efforts to combat the insidious problem of bias.

Anti-Bias Training Should Encompass all Stakeholders’ Perspectives

To underscore the importance of this training, Starbucks announced that the curriculum would be designed with help from prominent experts in civil rights and racial justice, including former attorney general Eric Holder, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. This A-list roster lends an extra dose of credibility to the initiative, but Starbucks might also consider engaging with the communities they serve to understand the experiences of their nonwhite customers on a more personal level. A great example of this kind of stakeholder-focused inclusion strategy is ANZ Bank’s accessibility initiative for people with disabilities, which involved stakeholders across the workforce, workplace, and marketplace in determining accessibility goals and how the bank would achieve them. (CEB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council members can read the case study here.)

Starbucks could also benefit from bringing employees’ voices and experiences into the conversation as opposed to making this a one-way training exercise. To be fair to the staff, they’re often at the frontlines of how the public feels about the company (like the time that a Miami man was videoed screaming “Trump!” at a black Starbucks employee, or the “Trump cup” protest, or the “open carry” protest, or the annual “war on Christmas” protests). Starbucks doesn’t exist to serve the community in the same way as the police or the government, but the company has consistently worked to cultivate a brand image of its cafés as public spaces, which imposes a unique set of challenges for its front-line employees.

Treat Employees as Partners, Not Part of the Problem, in Combating Bias

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Starbucks Commits to Gender Pay Equity Worldwide

Starbucks Commits to Gender Pay Equity Worldwide

At its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Starbucks announced that it “has achieved 100 percent pay equity for women and men, and for people of all races, performing similar work in the United States” and expressed a commitment to closing its gender pay gap worldwide as well:

Announced today, Starbucks has committed to achieving and maintaining 100 percent gender pay equity for partners in all company-operated markets globally, setting a new bar for multinational companies. This is an effort supported by equal rights champion Billie Jean King and her Leadership Initiative (BJKLI) and leading national women’s organizations, the National Partnership for Women & Families and the American Association of University Women. …

Starbucks has also formulated Pay Equity Principles that led to the successful closure of the pay gap at Starbucks in the United States. Recognizing the importance of this issue for women all around the world, Starbucks is sharing these principles so other companies can follow suit, and address known systemic barriers to global pay equity.

A number of major US companies with multinational reach, including large financial institutions and tech companies, have recently released pay equity audits demonstrating gender and racial pay gaps of 1 percent or less in the US and committing to closing the small gaps that exist. These audits have come in response to pressure from the activist investor Arjuna Capital, which filed shareholder resolutions at a number of large companies requesting them. Arjuna had submitted such a proposal at Starbucks as well, but withdrew it last year after the coffee chain issued a report showing 99.7 percent pay equity between male and female employees performing similar work.

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Activist Investors Step up Pressure on Companies to Expand Parental Leave

Activist Investors Step up Pressure on Companies to Expand Parental Leave

Last autumn, the Boston-based investment firm Zevin Asset Management led a investor push at Starbucks to pressure the coffee chain into expanding its parental leave benefits for hourly store employees to match the more generous policy available to salaried corporate employees. In a shareholder resolution, Zevin requested that Starbucks’ leadership tell its investors whether this discrepancy might constitute employment discrimination.

In January, Starbucks announced that it was expanding its parental leave benefits, as well as adding paid sick leave, for hourly employees. While the changes do not equalize the offerings for salaried and hourly employees, they will make parental leave available to many store employees who were not able to take it before. Zevin considered that a victory, and they and other activist investors have since been pushing for similar changes at other large US employers, Rebecca Gale reports at Slate:

The Starbucks shareholder resolution on paid family leave was the first of its kind, and it has proven so effective that socially responsible investing firms such as Zevin are gearing up to put more shareholder resolutions in place for companies that have unequal paid leave policies, citing the need for what they call “better human capital management,” i.e. better meeting the needs of workers, which they think will yield better long-term results for the companies. And Zevin has the close-knit group of socially responsible investment firms in Boston that regularly meet to learn about issues and connect on ideas to make it happen.

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Activist Investors Push for Equal Parental Leave for Starbucks Store Employees

Activist Investors Push for Equal Parental Leave for Starbucks Store Employees

Starbucks has a reputation for taking good care of its store employees (or “partners” as it likes to call them), but it has nonetheless drawn some controversy this year regarding its paid parental leave program. Under a new policy announced earlier this year, new mothers who work at the coffee chain’s corporate offices are entitled to as much as 18 weeks of leave at full pay after giving birth, while fathers and adoptive parents get 12 weeks. Store employees working more than 20 hours a week and who have been with the company more than 90 days are allowed six weeks of paid medical leave upon giving birth, while those who adopt are eligible for a six-week adoption allowance, both at 100 percent of their average weekly pay.

Even though these benefits are much better than what most hourly retail and service employees in the US enjoy, the policy raised questions about why corporate employees were entitled to so much more. In August, the Guardian’s Molly Redden highlighted the impact of this disparity on store employees, noting that Starbucks is not alone among major US companies in offering more generous parental leave benefits to their corporate employees than to their front-line staff. Now, Redden reports, a group of investors led by Zevin Asset Management is pressuring Starbucks to tell its shareholders whether this discrepancy might constitute employment discrimination:

“Paid family leave is a huge factor in how well women can stay involved in the workforce after having a baby, or how much time out they have to take in their careers,” said Pat Tomaino, Zevin’s associate director of socially responsible investing. “Women and their families benefit from equal and generous paid family leave – but companies do too.”

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Starbucks Promotes General Counsel to ‘Chief Partner Officer’

Starbucks Promotes General Counsel to ‘Chief Partner Officer’

Earlier this month, Starbucks promoted Lucy Helm, its general counsel and an 18-year veteran of the company, to a new C-suite position of Chief Partner Officer—essentially a chief human resources officer, but with a title that reflects Starbucks’ practice of referring to its employees as “partners”—Michelle Rafter writes at Workforce:

Helm took over for Scott Pitasky on an interim basis after he left in April to become vice president of HR/consumer at Amazon. Pitasky had been the company’s chief partner resources officer. Helm’s CPO job is essentially the same but the title was expanded to reflect the importance of the position, Riley said. As CPO, Helm will direct staffing, learning and development, compensation and benefits, and organizational development for the company’s workforce, including 174,000 U.S. workers. …

As general counsel, she oversaw the Starbucks’ legal and corporate affairs departments and served on its executive leadership team. Over the years, she became well-known inside the company for creating a global inclusion council and sponsoring networking groups for women, LGBTQ employees and employees interested in inclusion and accessibility.

In a message to employees announcing Helm’s promotion, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson praised her as “a leader who listens,” adding that “she comes to her new role with deep connections to partners in the field, at the support center, and in our plants.” Helm’s appointment, along with the title change suggesting a revamping of the role, sends a message that the company intends to focus on its “partners” in its ongoing change efforts.

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Starbucks Introduces Health Benefits for Parents of Employees in China

Starbucks Introduces Health Benefits for Parents of Employees in China

In countries with aging populations, many working-age people are saddled with the burden of caring for elderly parents or other relatives, putting pressure on their employers to help ease that burden. While organizations are becoming more aware of how elder care responsibilities affect their employees and are looking at new ways to help employees cope, Starbucks is breaking new ground in this area with a generous new benefit for its employees in China: health insurance for their parents. Bloomberg reports:

The new policy is a response to traditional values in China, the company said, as children often care for their parents and grandparents in a society that doesn’t have a comprehensive safety net for the elderly. The plan, covering 30 critical illnesses and some surgeries, will be available starting in June, Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said.

“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this, and the reason for that is that it was clear there was an emotionally driven concern among partners about their ability to take care of their parents,” Schultz said in an interview in Beijing. “I heard firsthand very emotionally driven, tragic stories about what’s taking place with the parents who got sick, and many passed away.”

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Starbucks’ Schultz Hands Over the Reins Once Again

Starbucks’ Schultz Hands Over the Reins Once Again

Starbucks founder and longtime CEO Howard Schultz passes the torch to his president, board member and longtime friend Kevin Johnson today. Noting that Schultz has left Starbucks in the past only to return to the CEO’s office twice, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor wonders whether this succession will be more successful than the previous attempts:

Now, Schultz and Johnson will again attempt one of the most delicate transitions in all of business: The handoff by an iconic, wildly successful CEO or founder to a successor. It’s a paradigm of its own, fraught with potential for ego clashes and muddled lines of authority, and one of corporate America’s most precarious high-wire acts. For founders and CEOs closely associated with a brand’s success, their identities “are often hyphenated with the enterprise,” says Jeff Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management. …

That division of specific roles and responsibilities is also what observers say could help the succession stick this time around. Schultz has carefully outlined what he plans to spend his time doing in his post-CEO role: Running the company’s premium Reserve brand and shepherding its Roastery locations, the company’s new sprawling tasting-room style temples to coffee. In addition, he’ll continue to lead the company’s social impact initiatives, such as hiring refugees across its global locations and offering college benefits to baristas. “He’s got meaningful projects to work on, something he’s really impassioned about,” said Sonnenfeld, who described Schultz’s role in the first CEO handoff as less well-defined.

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