Learning & Development

What Starbucks’ Employees Thought of Their Mandatory Unconscious Bias Training

Last week, we reported on the recent training Starbucks offered its employees and the benefits to proactive versus reactionary training. Today we’ll focus on what Starbucks employees thought about this training.


Source: Ridofranz / iStock / Getty

On May 29, 2018, Starbucks closed its doors for a few hours in 8,000 select locations across the nation to conduct unconscious bias training, or what the organization dubbed “diversity training.” (Read this post for more information about how this came about and what unconscious bias training is.)
Experts claim that Starbucks’ unconscious bias training was a first step in mitigating racial bias in the workplace, but there is still a lot of work to do. Starbucks even hired well-renowned experts to help it with its diversity curriculum: former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund.
But enough about the experts. What did actual Starbucks employees think of their mandatory unconscious bias training? Overall, it seems they had diverse yet consistent feedback and opinions.
  • Erin Martysz, a barista at an Escondido, CA, store, said, “It was surprisingly productive, and I thought the information was carefully prepared and thoughtfully distributed … Overall I think everyone benefitted.”
  • Cordell Lewis, the store manager at the Ferguson, Missouri, Starbucks, stated that his young and mostly African-American staff didn’t necessarily appreciate being forced to attend a training session on racial bias and said, “Honestly, it was a painful day for many of us,” and “none of my employees could relate.” His employees said things like, “we live this every day.”
  • A Jewish barista in a Massachusetts Starbucks store said, “… I thought some of the questions were kind of strange, from my point of view.” And he also claimed that some terms that were used, such as “color brave,” were odd. He said, “I still don’t know what that means, exactly, to be honest.”
  • Jaime Prater, a biracial manager in a Los Angeles Starbucks store, thought that Starbucks deserved credit for “rolling out the red carpet and spending millions on training technology, paperwork, books, and all of these things.” But he still wasn’t entirely sure that such a training requirement was fair when many employees aren’t guaranteed set hours while employed with the company.
  • Some Starbucks employees thought the training was “forced” and “cheesy,” and some thought that it focused more heavily on white and black diversity relations and concerns while excluding more information about other racial minorities and communities.


Overall, it seems as if Starbucks employees appreciated that their company acted and did something about unconscious racial bias in the workplace after the fateful event in Philadelphia in April when two black men were arrested. But they still felt that it was lacking in some areas.
So, it seems that the employees do agree with the experts. While Starbucks unconscious bias training was a good start, it should still include more concerns of people of different colors and should be an integral part of what the company does during its onboarding training sessions and everyday practices.