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You likely remember the headlines back in April about two African-American male customers who were denied access to the restroom at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the uproar that followed.

You also probably know that the store manager who denied restroom access – and then called the police – is no longer working for the company, and that, more importantly, the incident prompted Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to make changes to store policies.

Unfortunately, since that story grabbed the attention of the nation (and likely, the international community), a number of similar incidents have occurred. Police were called on Kevin Moore – an African-American firefighter who was participating in a safety inspection in Oakland, California – and Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown, who was simply standing in a Walgreen’s parking lot.

In these cases – and many similar ones – the person who notified police stated that they were concerned for their safety. But, since none of the men were acting in any illegal manner, one has to wonder, What were these people thinking?

Perhaps it was what has now become a bit of a buzzword – implicit bias. It’s a term Starbucks used when announcing that it would undertake a half-day training session for all of its employees throughout the country.

But, what is implicit bias, exactly?

According to Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, the “nature of implicit bias is such that you cannot subjectively experience when it’s influencing you” (W. Kamau Bell, CNN.com).

NAACP’s president and CEO Derrick Johnson said:

“The Starbucks situation provides dangerous insight regarding the failure of our nation to take implicit bias seriously.” That is, “we refuse to believe that our unconscious bias –the racism we are often unaware ofcan and does make its way into our actions and policies” (CNN.com).

But, as a leader in a business that employees hundreds or thousands of people and interacts with a wide variety of customers, suppliers, etc. every day, what does this implicit bias mean for your organization? The training Starbucks conducted provides several insights.

One, since implicit biases are “unconscious,” we all need to understand that we possess them… even though we are unaware of what they are. Therefore, developing policies, practices, training, etc. that help each employee to become aware of his or her biases is an essential staring point.

Then, as outlined by the two experts who have been advising Starbucks – Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Heather McGhee, president of Demos – regularly scheduled audits of a company’s customer-facing locations and employees should be undertaken.

At the same time, the organization’s manuals, policies surrounding when and/or why local police should be contacted, and other practices related to interactions with people of all races and backgrounds, must be updated.

With these efforts – focused on customer-facing associates – it is also imperative for every organization to ensure its leadership team and corporate headquarters reflect a rich mix of people across race, background, culture, etc. This often requires an overhaul of recruitment practices, hiring protocols and retention-related professional development systems.

In addition, Ifill and McGhee recommend that, especially in minority communities, larger organizations involve various community groups, including law enforcement and educators, in order to ensure that all company locations demonstrate the highest level of customer service and operate most efficiently (Sarah Whitten, CNBC.com).

In today’s global and ever-diversifying economy, all organizations must recognize that employees cannot ever “pre-judge” anyone based upon their race, cultural background, language/accent, appearance, etc. In fact, by ensuring that everyone act according to the “golden rule,” companies can be most successful.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at EASI•Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. EASI•Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult has incorporated the Burke LAI® into various solutions including identification of future leaders, leadership and individual assessment, leadership development, executive coaching, professional-level individual contributor assessment, and 360-degree feedback. EASI•Consult also offers online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

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