Starbucks’ Anti-Bias Training Is Costing The Coffee Chain Big Bucks — But It Could Pay Off

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Starbucks will be shutting its doors to customers on Tuesday, and while the cost might be great to the coffee giant, the payoff could be even bigger. The company will be giving its U.S. employees anti-bias training in the wake of the incident in which two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia store. Starbucks' anti-bias training is more than just an empty gesture for the company — according to USA Today, it's estimated to cost the company at least $12 million, and that's just in terms of lost profit.

According to CNN Money, Starbucks will be closing the approximately 8,000 stores that the company itself owns in the U.S. (that excludes licensed stores, like those in hotels, grocery stores, or airports) on Tuesday, May 29, for a period of about three hours. Starbucks announced that this was only the beginning of "a multiphase effort" to train its employees to recognize and combat their own biases, and that this training would immediately become a part of their onboarding process. Starbucks' CEO described the reasoning in a press release, stating:

The objective of closing our stores and utilizing that day for training is to affirm that Starbucks is a welcoming place for everyone, that all customers deserve our respect and fair treatment every day, and that we will invest — again and again — in our teams so they can deliver a great experience to every customer.

According to USA Today, the costs associated with the closure include both lost revenue and employee salaries, as the employees will be paid for attending the mandatory training. Together, this will total far more than the $12 million in lost revenue alone, but it's not a significant financial hit for the company, which, according to USA Today, made $660 million in net income in the first quarter of 2018. Starbucks also chose a slower time of day — immediately following the lunch rush, hours after the chaos of the morning. And, according to one expert that USA Today spoke with, the revenue lost could function as an investment in the company's future success.

"You want to patronize a business that treats its employees and customers well. Starbucks has gone much further than many other companies in this regards," John Zolidis, president of Quo Vadis Capital, told USA Today. "The sensitivity training, together with everything else Starbucks is doing, should be beneficial to the brand."

The economic impact that the training has on Starbucks itself isn't the most important question surrounding the training, of course. The main question is whether Starbucks' anti-bias training will actually work — and the answer to that depends on numerous things, according to CNBC. The content of the training, for example, has to engage the employees it's offered to — otherwise they won't actually take anything from it. It also has to make sure to address more than just racial bias, and one of the additional subjects, according to CNBC, has to be white privilege.

Reuters reported that Starbucks has numerous black leaders in social justice advising them on the anti-bias training, but MoneyControl reported that these advisors stressed that the three-hour training in no way represents a problem solved.

"We have really made it clear that one training is not enough, and this needs to be part of an ongoing review of their policies," said Heather McGhee, the president of equality-focused public policy organization Demos. "They really need to commit."

If this does end up being the beginning of a longer term commitment from Starbucks, then it will probably cost them much more than $12 million — but it will certainly pay off both financially and in ways that are far more important than money.