After Starbucks, some companies tackle implicit bias

Starbucks is closing its stores next Tuesday to give all workers unconscious bias training. The move comes in the wake of an incident in which a worker called police on two African-American men in the Philadelphia Starbucks.

Many people point to implicit or unconscious bias as the reason for that action.

Implicit bias is an understood, but unspoken prejudice (either from experiences or perceptions) that's not recognized by the person who holds and acts on it.

Joelle Emerson is the CEO and founder of Paradigm, a strategy firm that's worked with over 300 companies around the world on diversity and inclusion strategies.  She says the problem is not with an individual worker, or company: "it's a problem with our country," said Emerson. "It's a legacy of racism, and the way that guides decisions everyone makes in this country on a regular basis."

While Paradigm is not involved with Starbucks, Emerson said she hopes Starbucks looks long-term at how to deliver on its promise of "conscious inclusion." "In an ideal world, it would be really amazing if Starbucks could involve social scientists to really help influence and measure the impact of training," said Emerson, "but what i think would be really amazing is if it couples awareness-raising with strategy, so it feels tactical for people."

Just last week, Starbucks announced a new policy allowing anyone to be inside its stores and bathrooms without making a purchase.

 It's that kind of structure, Emerson  says, companies need to put in place to help keep bias from affecting individuals' decisions.

UC Berkeley psychology professor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton focuses on inter-group relations, stigma and  prejudice: He said "a really critical feature of this 'story' is that there is a lot of negative emotion."

As in -- we notice someone is different, then we "feel bad" for noticing... so we keep quiet. "There is a lot of anger around inequality and privliedge and a lot of guilt, and therefore a lot of avoidance," said Mendoza-Denton.  

Mendoza-Denton said that only further separates people, and that "insulation" can perpetuate long-held beliefs that people would never admit to, but still come out in actions.

 Mendoza-Denton says teacher might rely on implicit associations to make decisions about which students are disruputive, and which are not, saying "that's where you find differential discipline as a function of race or gender."

He also cited examples of doctors giving different treatment to patients, such as talking down to patients, not listening, or not believing reports of pain.

 He also cited a study of the NBA, and said "when coaches have a losing record, coaches get fired, but black coaches tend to get fired sooner than white coaches."

 Mendoza-Denton said next week's training is a start, but said it'll take Starbucks or any other company creating new standards, to ensure diversity in positions of influence, and a welcoming environment for all.

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