by | Apr 24, 2018

I’ve read several pieces that express an opinion that the training day at Starbucks “won’t work.” I am reminded that one person or organization can significantly contribute to change; it was one woman, Rosa Parks, who galvanized the Civil Rights Movement; it was one man taking a knee, Colin Kaepernick, who brought attention to the continuing systemic violence African-Americans face in this country; it was one young woman Malala Yousafzai who stood up to the Taliban; and now a corporate giant, Starbucks, is looking to respond thoughtfully to this country’s invisible systems of inequality.

#Starbucks looks to respond thoughtfully to invisible systems of inequality. Is this the right way to do so? Principal Consultant Rosalyn Taylor O'Neale thinks so. Click To Tweet

Will their training eradicate racism from all their stores? Only if the stores are moved to Mars. Racism is a deeply engrained system that can be impacted, if not eliminated. Will their training change the minds and hearts of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals? Perhaps. More likely it will change the behaviors, which in turn will change the conversations, leading to changes in understanding. And if that’s not incredible, if that feels like a small thing, then you have not been paying attention.


I applaud their public response. There are as many or more people saying they should have just sent an apology and chalked it up to “that’s how a few people are.” Their response has been to say and demonstrate that they believe we, as a society, can be better.


In my book 7 Keys 2 Success I say that the first key is “why.” Why are you looking to foster diversity and inclusion? If you don’t know your why, you won’t be able to stay the course when the going gets tough. That’s followed by the second key, which is that a leader’s behaviors and actions demonstrate their commitment – Starbucks has done both. The third key is support for leaders, and the team Starbucks has assembled to address racial bias is stellar – Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala.; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York City. The fourth key is education (training that is reinforced over time) and the fifth is measurements – quantifiable, and accountable actions.


With at least four keys in place, I believe Starbucks will be able to impact not only their employees’ actions and long-term attitudes, but the lenses of corporate leaders who are also looking to engage in conversations that are both uncomfortable and necessary for today’s businesses to thrive.


We have seen proof that even the smallest acts can create a movement – turning the sometimes nightmarish reality into a part of the dream. I believe that Starbucks is creating the right sort of environment where the future changemakers can find their voice and move this country forward.