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As Starbucks Trains Workers about Implicit Bias, Professor Kevin Woodson Shares Insights on Radio Times

Professor Kevin Woodson

May 29, 2018

The Starbucks company’s day of training on racial bias has the potential to produce meaningful change, Professor Kevin Woodson said during an interview on WHYY’s Radio Times program on May 29.

Starbucks closed all 8,000 of its stores on May 29 to train employees about implicit bias, following the April 18 arrest of two black men at its coffee shop at 18th and Spruce streets in Philadelphia, which garnered international attention after a video of the incident was posted on social media.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has apologized for the arrest of the men, who were merely awaiting a business associate’s arrival, and the leadership of Starbucks has vowed to change the company’s culture.

“Even if this primarily first and foremost a PR move or a brand management move, at the end of the day we have some very important people who are giving voice to an important perspective,” Woodson said of the company’s training program. “This is something that’s going to have an influence on the rank and file. It’s going to shape how people think about their jobs, how they think of their company and their employer.”

Company leaders must maintain a commitment to transparency and accountability for all employees, said Woodson, who joined Princeton University psychologist Stacey Sinclair and Mother Bethel AME Church pastor Mark Kelly Tyler on the program.

In the meantime, Woodson said, the widely viewed video has helped open the eyes of those who have not personally experienced or witnessed bias.

“You see a fairly mundane sort of every day discrimination that really escalates in a way that we’re not accustomed to seeing that really captures the full spectrum of what’s going on,” Woodson said.

For the training itself to have an impact, he said, it must not skirt painful topics or feelings.

“I would appreciate a very candid discussion where the workers are really made to reflect on their own views and attitudes and to think about why someone in that position might view a couple of young black men who haven’t done anything especially wrong as being these dangerous threats that are worthy of having a police intervention,” Woodson added. “To get there, you have to think about specific stereotypes. This is going to require a level of candor that will make people uncomfortable.”

As a scholar, Woodson has focused on studying race in corporate culture and the legal profession.