7 Ways Companies Like Starbucks Can Address Racial Bias

Over the weekend, Starbucks attracted considerable attention in the aftermath of a disturbing incident in Philadelphia. Two black men were taken out of the coffeeshop in handcuffs after a manager called police because they hadn’t bought anything – but they were simply waiting for a friend.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a black man was denied bathroom access because he hadn’t purchased anything, while a white man was allowed to use the restroom. Sounds like Starbucks has a bit of a race problem.

But it’s not the only company that’s engaged in racist activities when serving customers. This includes not just food and beverage chains, but also retailers and a variety of other customer service industries who treat white customers differently than people of color. While institutional racism certainly plays a role, there are some concrete steps that companies can take to acknowledge and mitigate racial bias.

1. Be Transparent About Diversity and Inclusion Statistics

Including a breakdown of employee demographics in annual reports and other materials prepared for the public is important. Customers should know how many people of color are in leadership — and how many are women. As much as possible, these statistics should be detailed so people know whether some areas of a company — like the executive suite, or public relations department — have skewed demographics. If 90 percent of your housekeeping staff is Latinx and zero percent of your board is, that’s a problem.

2. Be Proactive About Diversity and Inclusion In Hiring

Maintaining and publicizing statistics may lead many companies to realize they need to make some changes. Bad policies like those that created the situation in Philadelphia are brought about in part by homogenous leadership. Companies should identify areas of racial and gender homogeneity and explore ways to make them more diverse, including active outreach to recruit talented people. And if those people aren’t interested, companies need to find out why. Starbucks, for example, has been sued for disability discrimination, highlighting a climate that may not be welcoming for disabled employees.

3. Invest in Bias Training

The results of bias training can be mixed; some say it’s effective, some say it’s ineffective. Companies should do their research and work with experienced professionals who can offer education in cultural literacy and help employees examine and break down their own bias on both the corporate and franchise level. Evidence suggests that requiring training is ineffective, while building a culture where people are actively interested in voluntary bias training can have lasting results.

4. Revamp Employee Manuals

Starbucks has already committed to reevaluating its employee handbooks to better define situations in which police should be called. Handbooks should explore a variety of deescalation tactics, presenting police as a last resort. But they should also examine issues where bias can crop up because employees are allowed to make judgment calls.

For example, if the company thinks anyone who wants to use a restroom should be able to do so, it should say so. And these policies should be clearly posted, to make members of the public aware of Starbucks’ expectation from personnel.

5. Contribute to the Community

Many chain stores can feel abstracted from the communities they’re situated in. Their staff should reflect the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the community, but companies should also make an effort to get involved with community groups, acting as stakeholders and participants in the community. Black Lives Matter Philly, for example, is an extremely active community organization and an example of the kind of entity a company can approach for a partnership.

Contributions may be fiscal or in-kind, but they should also leverage the unique characteristics of an individual business. For example, a coffeehouse can become a meeting place, or a retail clothing store can work to connect unsold garments with community organizations rather than trashing them.

6. Set Clear Standards for Individual Stores

Corporate representatives can’t be everywhere all the time. But companies like Starbucks have extremely detailed policies and standards designed to ensure a uniform experience for customers from Trenton to Tokyo. Those standards can and should include clear guidance on racial and other biases, with culturally appropriate adjustments for locations around the world.

And these policies should be developed in consultation with communities who are often subjected to bias. The best people to offer guidance on inclusive policies are those who know what happens when those policies don’t exist or aren’t enforced. This includes not just racial bias, but also LGBQT harassment and other forms of discrimination.

7. Establish Real Consequences

When policies are violated, employees need to understand the consequences — which should be clearly spelled out in their handbooks. Companies should provide specific examples of particular kinds of offenses and what will happen if they’re committed. That way employees know when they might be fired, put on suspension, subjected to written warnings or otherwise penalized. These consequences should be applied consistently.

Companies should also think about how discipline itself can become a tool of bias: Will a black employee be punished for wearing natural hair under a rigid appearance standard? Will a trans employee who asks customers to stop making homophobic comments be written up?

Take Action!

Join fellow Care2 activists in asking Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to meet with Black Lives Matter and implement policies to address bias by signing this petition.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you are inspired by this success and have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Vincent T
Past Member 8 months ago


Jan S
Past Member 8 months ago

Thank you

Hannah K
Past Member 10 months ago

thanks for sharing

Louise R
Past Member 10 months ago

thank you

Danuta W
Danuta W10 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Update: They are....

Mike R
Mike R10 months ago


Mike R
Mike R10 months ago


Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson11 months ago

Thank you!