When the story that several black male customers at a Starbucks – located in an affluent, urban area of Philadelphia – had been victims of an employees’ cultural bias went viral, people were shocked; some were angry, and others may have felt the incident was “isolated” – that in no way should it be exploited as an example of broader trends of bias perpetuated within organizational cultures. Still, for many of us, unfortunately, news of the incident wasn’t surprising. While Starbucks made an important business decision by taking a necessary and very public (savvy) step toward responding to the matter in the shorter term, moving forward, what is most critical is that the organization work consistently and with long-term intention and investment in the months and years ahead to increase the cultural competency and sensitivity of its entire workforce – from the “top down” – and for the purpose of confronting the reality of unconscious bias that will invariably continue to impact its employees and customers, and therefore, its business. Furthermore, such investment can go a long way in terms of re-building relationships with diverse customers as well as employees.
Unconscious, implicit cultural bias (on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability, age, or socioeconomic status, for instance) is a reality of all of our workplaces. Because we are all socialized to invest in particular ideas about ourselves as well as those whom are “different” from us, we are all susceptible to unconscious bias. Yet before such biases can be effectively addressed in the workplace, for instance, those serving within key decision-making capacities within our organizations must do more than simply acknowledge them and instead invest in resources meant to respond to and confront bias. The mistake many employers make is in assuming that their employees are not susceptible to or victims of cultural bias, when in truth, they haven’t taken the time to gather feedback from their employees or customers which might tell another story about the status of their workplace or organizational environments with respect to cultural competency. Thus, even the most well-intentioned employer can be uninformed about the climate of their workplace when it comes to the experiences of underrepresented employees, for instance.
No organization or workplace is immune from the impact of cultural bias. Most organizations are merely one incident away from making headlining news when it comes to potential incidents of cultural bias in any form in the workplace. Not only is it important to ensure that your organizational vision, goals and practices include D&I-centered ideals, but a failure to reinforce your business’ support for diversity, equity and inclusion through strategic planning, regular training, assessment and follow-up with leadership as well as staff working in all capacities to ensure that they are working in a manner that is consistent with such ideals is advised.
So … How does your organization respond to unconscious, implicit cultural bias? What kind of an example will your business and/or brand set when it comes to addressing it? Not only are your employees, customers, clients and stakeholders watching, but so too is the world.