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Why one-day diversity training like Starbucks did is not enough

On Tuesday, Starbucks closed around 8,000 of its U.S. stores for a half-day of racial-bias training sessions. The mandatory session followed a high-profile arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks who were waiting to meet a business partner when a white employee called the cops on them, accusing them of trespassing. The incident sparked outcry and a public apology from the company.

Can systemic racism get tackled in a four-hour crash course into diversity? Experts and research on the topic are skeptical. Even some of the Starbucks employees who heard the training were skeptical. One Starbucks employee in Florida complained that the training was too generalized. “They didn’t really give specifics of how to approach certain situations, or how they planned as a company to include everyone, except that everyone is a customer that walks into our store, even if they don’t buy anything,” the employee said. “In my opinion, the training was a waste of four hours.”

One day of training isn’t enough to change behaviors permanently

The reason why a half-day of diversity training is not enough to solve bias in your company is because it’s hard to unlearn any embedded bias in a day. A 2016 review into 260 diversity training studies found that longer and more interactive sessions led to better results. When employees had more opportunities to connect with employees who were different from them, the lessons were more likely to stick.

You may retain the helpful knowledge from that anti-bias training, but the sad truth is, your beliefs and behaviors will revert back to how they were before the training in time, the researchers found.

Instead of holding a day of training and calling it a day, experts suggest making diversity awareness a part of your everyday work routines. The review on diversity training recommended offering other diversity initiatives like follow-up mentoring sessions and networking groups. That way, companies signal that diversity is not a throwaway issue, but a core part of their mission going forward.

Make diversity training part of work culture

“Integrated efforts may signal managerial commitment to diversity above and beyond that of a single class or seminar, substantially increasing the motivation of participants to learn,” the study states. “For example, a social networking group of minority professionals, supported by the organization, is a follow-up outcome of a diversity course and also serves as a mentoring source.” The goal is to make interactions between different employees about diversity a normal part of your work culture.

For Piyush Patel, author of “Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work,” and a corporate expert who has led diversity training sessions, the key to making these sessions work is reinforcing the information consistently with staff check-ins.  

“When a sports team struggles, what does their coach suggest they do? They don’t offer one training session and leave it at that. Almost unanimously, they make sure everyone understands the rules of the game and keep practicing them until it becomes second nature,” he told Ladders.

“For Starbucks, spending such a large amount to shut down stores tells me their leadership knows they need to go back to the fundamentals. They need to coach their teams on what to do. That’s on the leadership at each store to keep it going — to be held accountable that their store adheres to the company values.”

Starbucks, which likely lost around $12 million by closing its stores, said that the half-day was a first step and it has plans for more employee training.

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