April 15 Philadelphia starbucks racial discrimination protest
Protestor Donn T (C) demonstrates inside a Center City Starbucks on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Police arrested two black men who were waiting inside the Center City Starbucks, which prompted an apology from the company’s CEO.
Mark Makela/Getty Images
  • Starbucks will close all its stores for much-anticipated racial bias training on the afternoon of May 29.
  • Many people are wondering: Will the training make a difference?
  • Heather McGhee, an outside adviser to Starbucks who helped the company develop the training, spoke with me about how the training was designed, and how to decide if it works.
  • Possible evaluation tools for Starbucks’ ongoing anti-bias programs include secret shoppers to measure stores’ equal treatment of black and white customers, and customer sentiment surveys in minority communities.

On Tuesday, Starbucks will close all its company-owned US stores for four hours to undertake anti-bias training.

This is a step the company announced as a response to an incident last month in which Starbucks staff called police to arrest two black men who were waiting for a meeting at a Philadelphia Starbucks store.

The training comes at a time when brands are increasingly finding themselves at the center of fraught cultural controversies, often involuntarily.

Starbucks has an unusual track record of leaning into such conversations, sometimes in ways that have enhanced its brand (as with its programs to hire veterans and refugees) and other times less effectively (as with its much-mocked “Race Together” initiative.)

This latest move by Starbucks has been met with wide interest and also some skepticism: Is this training mostly for public relations, or will it be designed in a rigorous way that is likely to produce lasting cultural change at the company?

On this week’s episode of KCRW’s Left, Right & Center, I spoke with Heather McGhee, the president of the progressive policy groups Demos and Demos Action. Heather has been one of Starbucks’ outside advisers on developing an effective anti-bias training program — now intended to be an ongoing initiative, with Tuesday’s training as the first step.

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Heather described why she chose to work with Starbucks for free (“Starbucks’ response was not what I expected. They could have simply said this has nothing to do with race, which is what many companies have said in similar instances”) and what can be done after the fact to figure out if Starbucks’ training has worked (“You can do a spot audit where you have an African American and a white person come in and ask for the same kinds of accommodations, and find out how they are treated. And then you can monitor that over time. You can also take consumer sentiment surveys in the communities.”)

An abridged transcript of our conversation is below, lightly edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the whole conversation using the embedded player or at this link.

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Heather McGhee, President of Demos, and Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator, on October 23, 2015 in New York City.
Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Seven Squared Media

JOSH BARRO, BUSINESS INSIDER & KCRW: Can you talk a little bit about how this came together and how you came to be involved?