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Starbucks baristas find anti-bias training has a limited scope but is a good start

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Key Points
  • Starbucks shuttered 8,000 of its stores on Tuesday afternoon so that more than 175,000 baristas could participate in a training seminar.
  • For some Starbucks employees, the training was a chance for socially conscious workers to discuss hot topics such as racial anxiety. For others, the experience was "more performative than productive."
  • Several baristas also voiced concerns that the company's training focused too much on race relations between white and black people and not enough on all people of color.
A man reads a notice stating "We're Closing Early On May 29," posted outside a Starbucks store, before more than 8,000 branches nationwide will close this afternoon for anti-bias training, in Philadelphia, May 29, 2018.
Mark Makela | Reuters

Starbucks baristas completed four hours of anti-bias training on Tuesday, but some said they found the scope to be too limited.

In the wake of an incident in Philadelphia that the company said challenged fundamental parts of its values, Starbucks shuttered 8,000 of its stores so that more than 175,000 baristas could participate in a training seminar.

As baristas left their locations Tuesday evening after a master class designed to address implicit bias, promote inclusion and help prevent discrimination, one question lingers: Can this training really make a difference?

For some Starbucks employees, the training was a chance for socially conscious workers to discuss hot topics such as racial anxiety and the difference between implicit and explicit bias. For others, the experience was "more performative than productive."

"We all agreed that the topic of race and diversity is extremely important to discuss but that the company might have gone about the discussion in the wrong way," one barista in New Jersey told CNBC.

The barista said that some of the videos presented to the employees were "a little cheesy" and "felt a little forced."

A barista in Virginia said, "Some Starbucks partners are frustrated that they have to take the time to go through the diversity training because of someone else's actions. But I think that taking the time to close [the stores] for this training is a way to let customers know that we don't stand for what happened."

Several baristas also voiced concerns that the company's training focused too much on race relations between white and black people and not enough on all people of color.

"One of the guys in the store who is Filipino brought up that he feels like he is discriminated against for being a [person of color] and that Starbucks glazed over non-black people by focusing solely on the divide between black and white," the New Jersey barista said. "Another girl in the store agreed. She's Latino, and the most recent Starbucks issue in California involved a Latino family. She said she felt like Starbucks was missing a larger part of the discussion by not addressing other minority communities."

Starbucks' curriculum featured videos from CEO Kevin Johnson and Chairman Howard Schultz, as well as rapper Common, and members of the Perception Institute who spoke on racial anxiety and how employees can better serve customers. Employees also watched a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson.

"The Nelson video actually provided some good discussion," the New Jersey barista said. "It was the first one of the materials that actually got everyone to talk about their own experiences."

Nelson's eight-minute documentary features several African-Americans discussing their experiences and how they feel the need to alter their physicality and mannerisms to make social situations with other races more comfortable.

One participant in the video said that he often left extra space between himself and other customers while in a store, kept his hands visible at all times, made eye contact with security guards and managers and watched the tone of his voice so they would not think that he was stealing or hiding something.

After these videos were screened to employees, they were instructed to answer a number of prompts in their notebooks as well as a Team Guidebook. Employees were asked to recall the first time they noticed their racial identity, whether their accent ever affected how people perceived them and to describe how they might create a feeling of acceptance in their stores.

"I think [the training is] an appropriate response/solution to what happened in Philadelphia," the Virginia barista said.