Companies like Starbucks like anti-bias training. But it doesn’t work and may backfire.


Companies like Starbucks love anti-bias training. But it doesn’t work — and may backfire.

A viral video of two African-American men was arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for allegedly not doing anything other than waiting for business partner to arrive — has led to demonstrations, calls for boycotts and an apology from the coffee giant’s Executive Director Kevin Johnson.

“What happened in the way that the incident escalated, and the result was nothing but censure,” Johnson said in the video. “I’ll fix”.

Starbucks came up with the solution to protect your employees from discrimination customer “anti-bias education.”

May 29, in the network of 8,000-plus U.S. stores will close during the day and to give up profits, allowing employees to attend trainings that will “address implicit bias, to promote conscious integration, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside the Starbucks store, feel safe and welcome,” said the company. Training will be developed with the participation of experts from such a founder of the equal justice initiative Bryan Stevenson, the President of NAESP Sherrilyn Ifill, and former U.S. attorney General Eric holder, the Washington post reports.

But five of the social scientists I talked to who study racial prejudice, a few hours of training can’t begin to solve a problem that infects corporations such as Starbucks. “We should be skeptical about the possibility of training to change in any meaningful way, the prejudice of white workers to black customers,” said Hakeem J. Jefferson, political Sciences, candidate of economic Sciences at the University of Michigan.

This is because the evidence we have shows about training, as a rule, does not change racial prejudice and behavior in the long term and can even backfire. So it’s possible to do not more successful than the failed attempts by Starbucks to spark conversations about race by asking baristas to write “race together” on coffee cups.

“[Starbucks] felt that they need to make a symbolic gesture,” Harvard sociologist Frank Dobbin told me. “The problem is that corporate America makes this a symbolic gesture since the 1970s years.” (

“These efforts are not just window dressing,” Dobbin added, as corporate trainings in sexual harassment became the default response to motion #Metoo.

Any Corporation that wants to be part of the solution, not the problem should be confined to symbolic gestures as training on other measures that can begin to really solve the problem of inequality. They may be harder and longer, but they are more sincere side to avoid damaging, hurtful incidents like calling the police on clients of color.

How implicit bias works

Before we move on to the effectiveness of anti-bias trainings, we need a small digression on how the bias works. Type displacement Starbucks is hoping to eradicate its employees are called implicit bias — the idea that people subconsciously divide people into groups based on occupation, gender or race.

Implicit bias is about assumptions or inferences about the behavior — like whether someone is friendly or threatening, caring or indifferent — and we usually don’t realize we are even doing this type of thinking, University of Oregon law and psychology researcher Eric Girvan explained. These implicit associations often lead to quite discriminatory behavior in our workplaces and communities.

For African Americans, prejudice, people have a tendency to be extremely negative. The researchers found, for example, that we associate black skin with evil; we see black children as older than they really are; and we see young black men as above, heavier, and more muscular and more physically threatening than young white men.

These biases can shape how we act that the incident in Starbucks showed. It is reported that the Manager at the store said that people had been illegally and refused to leave after Emily VOX Stewart said. Roy police officer hovered over the two men, while another visitor in the cafe asked: “who else thinks this is funny?” and called the incident an “absolute discrimination”.

“The Manager saw the men as a greater threat because they are African-Americans,” said Girvan. “Even if this person never said they were racist, and may not be consciously aware that they see [Starbucks patrons] as different, which offset] brought to the police by phone.”

The offset discs that racial profiling is common and certainly not unique to the employees of Starbucks. It is not difficult to find examples of this in the US police — and this can lead to unfair arrests and killings of innocent blacks.

It also permeates the American workplace, where racial minorities were more likely than white people to be victims of harassment and “isolationist behavior”, for example, did not remain aloof from social events. Corporations have long been trying to solve systemic racism, as VOX’s German Lopez reported, in 2017, the study found that anti-black when applying for a job as common today as they were in 1980-ies, despite the proliferation of programs, diversity and anti-bias training.

Anti-bias trainings have been widespread: while inequality persists

Given the ubiquity of damage, researchers have been trying to understand how to deal with it. After the Second World War, approximately 1000 studies on this topic have been published. But one thing is already clear: a lot of evidence about what to do, the problem is not very well executed — and there is a lack of experimental studies that can equivocally answer the question what works and what doesn’t when it comes to combating discrimination.

The best data we offers trainings are often unable to fight against prejudice. In a fun roundup attests to the diversity of programs, published in the “Harvard business review”, co-author Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev looked at 30 years of data, and data from more than 800 U.S. firms and interviews with hundreds of managers and executives. Here is a brief summary of findings on the anti-bias trainings:

The variety of programs that can include everything from employment tests and certifications to ensure fair hiring and pay decisions, and training is designed to “prevent lawsuits”, they added, instead of really stopping prejudice.

Another Meta-analysis of over 400 studies, testing, approaches to change implicit bias found exactly no evidence that forcing people to recognize their hidden biases alters the behavior.

“The short answer is that training variety is filled with good intentions and bad evidence,” Brian Nosek, University of Virginia researcher, said. “In terms of preparation in General, no matter what the topic, there is very little evidence that he can independently change the behavior, which is usually what is of interest: reducing prejudice and bias, which is undesirable. Implicit learning bias is no different than that.”

Implicit bias training may even backfire

Some studies show that training can even have a negative impact. “Education can bring a bias to the surface,” Harvard Dobbin says. “He can make you think more about bias. It can activate stereotypes.”

This is especially true when training is mandatory, researchers have found that this approach Starbucks takes. “People react negatively forced to go and say that the reason they should try to promote equality of opportunity and promoting diversity because the law requires them,” said Dobbin.

The failure of Starbucks to reflect this evidence in its approach prompted the tweetstorm from Nosek:

Burning in one tweet, he wrote: “to spend millions on the introduction of the interference data over several weeks is a major violation of good practice. This gives the impression that the goal is not to change behavior, but to solve PR.”

So how to fight racial bias for real?

If Starbucks really wanted to solve its problems of racial bias, there are several approaches it might take. And they have nothing to do with the corporate anti-bias trainings.

“We know from many sociological studies,” Dobbin said, “to get people to change their stereotypes about other groups that they worked side by side with representatives of other groups equal”.

Here the Dobbin in the Harvard business review again:

So instead of having to dedicate half a day for training, Starbucks could make the staff at the 8,000-plus stores are more racially integrated and for minorities in leadership positions. “What will change the attitude, change the racial hostility from all groups,” added Dobbin. “We see racial hatred goes down when [people] work with members of other groups.”

Starbucks could have a couple of anti-bias education Learning about situations in which people may make biased decisions, said Oregon Eric Girvan. When people realize their mistakes and learn to understand when these biases affect the decisions they make, it can change the way they approach decision-making in these situations. As, for example, thinking about what they would call the police on white men linger in a café as easily as black men.

Again, this type of learning does not reduce the bias in the same way as anti-bias learning does not reduce the bias. It just makes people more aware of their behavior and gives them the opportunity to focus on how to change them.

“In a nutshell, there isn’t much evidence that training resulted in any long-term improvements in implicit bias,” Girvan added. “But what could work is to change policies and practices as you make decisions and act in certain situations.”

There is also an incredible opportunity to study the impact of their programs — what sociologists have asked the company on Twitter.

“Starbucks can contribute to science; it can contribute to policy,” said Princeton psychology Professor Betsy levy Paluck. Developing sound research to evaluate training programs and exchange of data, Paluck said, “what do we do when we have mass public health and political problem on our hands. And this is also what we should do in response to the problem of racial prejudice and discrimination.”


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