The Cost of Unconscious Bias

unconscious bias

In May 2018, Starbucks closed up all their coffee shops in order to have “Unconscious Bias” training after the arrest of two Black gentlemen, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson  at a coffee shop in Philadelphia. Reports stated that the men showed up 10 minutes early to the coffee shop for a business meeting, asked for the restrooms and were told by the white employee that the facilities were for paying customers only. According to the Washington Post article, “After Nelson returned to the table where Robinson was sitting, the white manager approached them to ask whether she could help get them drinks or water.Two minutes later, she called the police to report “two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.”

coffee lifestyle starbucks coffee shop
Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

The men were so gracious that they settled with Starbucks for the token sum of ONE DOLLAR each – merely to show that their intention was to get the company to fix what was broken. As a part of the agreement, Starbucks announced it would close 8,000 stores for anti-racial-bias training on May 29. Johnson (CEO) and Schultz (chairman) met with Nelson and Robinson personally to apologize.

All this because of ONE employee… this did not need to happen.

Unconscious Bias is something we all have. It resides in the background of our brains and comes out at unexpected times and places. It may look like an extreme emotional reaction to someone or it could look like a “gut feel” to not hire someone. Either way, it’s there, lurking and unless we realize that this is something we can all fall victim to, it will not get addressed or go away.

So, how does one deal with this?

Harvard has an amazing tool that I assign to my undergraduate business students called the “Implicit Association Test (IAT).” It is free for personal use and it exists to help people realize that we all have blind spots. I get at least one student per semester who writes me a terse e-mail, telling me that they do not appreciate me pointing out that they are prejudiced. I normally reply back simply by writing back “We ALL have prejudice!” It’s good to become aware of the things that might trigger a reaction, much like the one the Starbucks employee had upon watching two African American men sit down at an empty table. I’m not excusing her behavior, I’m merely pointing out that something went terribly wrong in this exchange and it happened to revolve around the people’s race and ethnicity.

We all have physical blind spots in our optic nerve (blocks peripheral vision — that’s why we need side view mirrors on cars!), so why don’t we believe that we have mental blind spots as well? The more we encourage one another to think about matters of DIVERSITY & INCLUSION, the better off we will be as an organization and as a society.

If you’d like to know more about this topic, contact me! 🙂

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