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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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Starbucks and Unconscoius Bias


Starbucks is closing its 8,000 US stores today so that its staff can receive training around racial bias. 

It’s a reaction to an apparent example of racial bias, when, in April, two black men were arrested in a Starbucks store in Philadelphia, for simply sitting there.

In reality, the two men had arrived early for a meeting. Initially, they were told they couldn’t use the restrooms because they hadn’t made a purchase, so they took a seat and waited. Two minutes later, despite it being common for people to sit in Starbucks without making a purchase, the white manager called the police who duly arrived and arrested the two men. They were charged with trespassing and creating a disturbance; charges that were subsequently dropped. 

Unsurprisingly, the video footage of their arrest went viral, forcing Starbucks to take the dramatic action they have today.

You can see more of this story here.

I’ve long been passionate about the need for people to understand unconscious bias. In my view, too much equal opportunities training is what I call tick box training. It checks employees' understanding of the ‘rules’ but it does nothing to raise awareness of deeper issues. If we really want to encourage work places that are welcoming to everyone, then we really need to tackle the fundamentals, and that means unconscious bias. It’s critical to understanding why seemingly reasonable people can make very bad decisions or justify positions that are simply unjustifiable.

One of the training modules I’m most proud of creating is Witches of Glum. It’s a story-based exercise that powerfully exposes unconscious bias. It works all around the world, where people make the same false assumptions, based entirely on the what they’ve heard before and their resulting ‘map of the world’. No-one wants to admit that they can be guilty of bias; the power of Witches comes from making people aware of their own fallibility in a safe way. 

The great news, for those of you who aren't yet members of Trainers' Library, is that Witches of Glum is one of our free samples

Witches of Glum isn’t the only activity we have on this vitally important topic. In fact, just last week we added another powerful module, which really builds on what Witches of Glum achieves. If you’ve not seen it yet, take a look at ‘The Shopping List’ now.

I’d also recommend checking out ‘The Ladder of Inference’.

Once you’ve raised awareness of unconscious bias, you can build on this new awareness. Some of my favourite modules on the topic of equal opportunities and diversity are:

Land of the Nutritos: This really helps people understand what being in a minority group feels like.

Unequal Opportunities: A brilliantly simple icebreaker that delivers a powerful message.

Breaking out of our Boxes: A group activity that exposes the superficial nature of the walls we build between us and the labels we apply to groups of people. 

A Level Playing Field: This one is UK based and looks at what the law says. 

By the way, I deliberately mentioned A Level Playing Field last. Whilst important, my view is that too often ‘compliance’ is simply a veneer of the ‘right’ behaviours disguising the same unchanged attitudes beneath. I think we have to go deeper if we want to make a meaningful difference, with training that encourages participants to question beliefs and attitudes, so that they learn to value the legislation, rather than see it as a tick box burden.

Nothing would give me greater pride than knowing we’ve helped organisations avoid a Starbucks moment, or created an environment that values and welcomes everyone, so please do let me know what impact our exercises have.

Until next time...

Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb

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