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Why Starbucks' anti-bias training probably won’t work

The man who coined the term "implicit bias" said there's no training program that's known to produce effects.

Starbucks' racial bias training was a huge success, according to Starbucks. But one day of training isn't going to help solve the real issue: the assumptions people make based on skin color.

About 175,000 Starbucks employees watched videos and read workbooks that focused on the concept of so-called implicit bias when 8,000 U.S. stores closed Tuesday afternoon for training. The theory goes that most people have ingrained prejudices, and the aim of the program, the coffee chain said, was to promote inclusion and prevent discrimination in its stores.


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University of Washington professor Anthony Greenwald coined the term implicit bias and introduced a groundbreaking test in 1998 meant to measure it. When Greenwald and his research partner, Mahzarin Banaji, then a professor at Yale, introduced the test, they said their findings promised the potential for people to overcome their biases.

But 20 years later, Greenwald said, no training program has achieved that goal.

“No one should be presenting themselves as being able to offer education or training that will undo or eliminate implicit biases,” he told VICE News.

Starbucks should instead collect information on the experiences of a broad number of its customers, according to Greenwald.

A spokesperson for Starbucks told VICE News that there's no such effort underway at the moment but added that the training was only the beginning of a long-term effort. “This is the work of years, not days or weeks,” the spokesperson said.

Cover image: People are seen meeting inside the ground floor, closed Starbucks Reserve at the company's headquarters during employee anti-bias training, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)