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Today is the day that Starbucks will close down 8,000 of its owned-and-operated US stores to engage in racial bias training for the majority pf its employees, a response to the incident in Philadelphia last month when a white store manager called the police on two black men waiting for a friend to arrive before ordering.

The New Yorker has a terrific think-piece about the subject that you can read here. An excerpt:

“Implicit bias disassociates racism from overt villainy and, as a consequence, engenders less defensiveness in the dialogue …The crucial aspect of the Starbucks story isn’t whether a company can, in a single training session, diminish bias among its employees. It’s the implied acknowledgment that such attitudes are so pervasive in America that a company has to shoulder the responsibility of mitigating them in its workforce.”

At the same time, Business Insider has a story about how “a California coffee chain called Red Bay has curbed racial bias toward customers by hiring people of color in management positions and creating a culture of discussing racial issues, according to founder Keba Konte.” Red Bay Coffee, the story says, “has a staff composed entirely of women, people of color, and the formerly incarcerated.”

Konte tells Business Insider, “The number-one question I get is, 'Specialty coffee is such a crowded field. What makes you different?' There's a competitive advantage to opening up opportunities for folks who have a higher barrier of entry to jobs, like the formerly incarcerated.”

And, he adds: "Once you delve into this industry, you'll notice the coffee is only grown in countries, often near the Equator, by black and brown people that make the lowest pay. Once it's exported from the hard labor, in terms of the roasting, the branding, the technical education, the designing of the equipment — people of color are underrepresented.” Red Bay’s goal is to change that construct.

Konte acknowledges that as his company grows, maintaining this commitment may get harder: “I think that is the bare minimum of what any company should do. Once you get larger, this is more difficult. But [American] companies should reflect the globe or at least the US. And when I say 'reflect,' I don't mean just on the front lines — like the entry-level baristas — but also the executive team and middle management. That's the part that has to be a better reflection of America.”
KC's View:
This is all a good start - nothing more, and nothing less. This has to be just the beginning of an ongoing effort by Starbucks that also will be modeled by other companies and organizations. I do think the Red Bay example is instructive, because it points to the importance of diversity at every level of an organization.