Hold Your Judgment!!!

Hold Your Judgment!

It’s only been a few days since Starbucks(SBUX) held their company-wide training on racial bias, but many seem ready to write it off and dismiss any positive effects as transitory! Some of these individuals are HR professionals – but none seems to have actually participated in the training!

As a person of color and an HR practitioner, I am hopeful. I have a daughter and a nephew who work at Starbucks, and they have had nothing but positive things to say about their employer—even before the unfortunate event that prompted this training. I am optimistic about continuing this conversation, and thankful to Starbucks for taking action. They never claimed that this training was the ultimate solution. On the contrary, the company has made it clear that this is part of an ongoing initiative. They know that lasting improvement will require a sustained effort, and that it may be necessary to tweak the training over time. And I appreciate their express willingness to share the materials they develop with other organizations.

Given the company’s positive reputation within the global community, it didn’t have to proceed on this scale, but it did!  Those who consider this a PR stunt may need to check on their own bias. It was more than a PR. It was an investment! If other organizations invested in their employees so generously, we wouldn’t have so many compliance issues in the first place. I was appalled when people moaned about missing their coffee runs. Is that more important than a grand gesture focused on building a better community and tackling racial bias? Let’s think about the fact that on the day of the training, people were showing disgust for Roseanne Barr’s racist tirade. This led to innocent coworkers losing their livelihood–on stage and behind the curtains—but some still defended her. Isn’t this a climate in which fighting bigotry takes precedence over our daily cappuccinos? If you still aren’t convinced, think about the actions of our president, who spews hatred on People of Colors (African American, Hispanics, Middle Eastern, etc.). When it comes to combatting racial bias, there’s no time like the present.

Rather than writing off Starbucks’ effort, why not help promote it? They planted the seeds, let’s nurture them so that they will take root, grow, blossom, and bear fruit. What would have happened if we listened to naysayers when the “Do Not Litter” and “No Smoking” campaigns were launched? It’s easy to forget that these attempts to change American society produced their share of scoffing and cynicism. It took time, but society did change and changed in recent memory. Sure, there are those who still litter and smoke, but at a vastly lesser scale than in decades past. Remember the business owners who thought that smoking ban would be bad for business? The opposite turned out to be true.

We all know that we are not born racist. Racism is learned, much like smoking. As someone who grew up with smokers, many of my family and friends (myself included) do not smoke, and our children aren’t hesitant to announce to someone that smoking can kill them! We are also of mixed race and multi-religion, making it important to be respectful of our differences, and those of others. Education is a big step. We all learn at different pace. So, before we judge Starbuck’s effort and write it off, let’s give it some time. Perhaps, if we just hold off on being judgmental, and instead practice open mindedness and patience, our world will be a better place… who doesn’t want that?

Throwing The First Stone…Hypocrisy and the Call for Corporate Accountability

Starbucks is trending on social media because of an incident in which two African-American men were arrested for trespassing at their Philadelphia store. They were taken in handcuffs just as the person they were waiting for arrived. You can find out more about the story here: Starbucks

What I found interesting is how quickly the internet blame roared into action. People have been almost gleefully eager to throw the first stone at Starbucks. This kneejerk rhetorical bile wasn’t directed at the employee who called the cops, or that employee’s manager, or the cops who made the arrest—all individuals who might rightly be criticized. The same puritanical souls railed against Starbuck’s press release as “unacceptable” and claimed that it doesn’t really “scratch the surface of the issues.” Many of these reactions came from people whose stances I generally find well-considered and fair. These are people in HR.

I hate the tendency to indict an entire HR department because of one isolated incident. I also hate it when companies known for strong corporate values are maligned because of one individual’s poor judgment.

Yes, even the best companies have bad apples. Is that really HR’s fault? Is it the fault of the company as a whole? It is, if the bad apples are allowed to continue to be employed there.

If you were on Starbuck’s PR team, how would you address this in a short amount of time? If you were one of their HR people, how would you react? Is it really practical for them to address the entirety of the racial discrimination issue, or does a greater weight rest on the police department who made the arrest? At the end of the day, the cops have an obligation to assess the situation and determine whether the law has been broken. There is no doubt that Starbucks does have certain responsibilities as well. They must investigate in a robust and comprehensive manner. If the employee was at fault, would you fire them right away, or approach the incident as organizational learning moment, to be addressed by intensified training?

Many have responded to #MeToo by asking “Where is HR?” instead of “Where’s the HR representative”? We all got painted by the same insidious brush, when most of us would never let that sort of thing happen. HR gets blamed for failing to do proper training without bothering to find out whether or not training was actually done.

If we want to ask for fairness and equality, let’s not throw the first stone. Let’s not replace accountability with hypocrisy. As HR folks, we wait for all information and investigate rather than passing judgement based on a sensational smattering of unsubstantiated claims. Let’s instead focus on constructive questions: If you worked for Starbucks, what changes would you implement so that this won’t happen again?

I’m not ignoring the fact that something unacceptable happened. It was wrong, and it was clearly racial discrimination, based on eyewitnesses accounts. But to expect Starbucks to take full responsibility for an action of one person (whose story is yet to be heard) is unrealistic. It would be a different story if this was happening at every Starbucks, but it simply isn’t. If anything, we should be asking more for better accountability from the police department whose officers were involved.