This statement was written in April, 2018, in response to the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop.
As an organization that does work to enable a more just and compassionate world through individual development, diversity and inclusion work, and organizational change, we, NTL, offer several reflections around the recent incident at Starbucks.
We are not formally engaged with Starbucks in relation to this instance or their response. The information available to us is only what has been made publically available. While some of these reflections are relevant to Starbucks, some are also about the broader landscape and ecosystem in which Starbucks exists, which must also be taken into account.
First, we are appalled that we as society still discriminate, oppress, and kill people – most often people who hold marginalized identities – often for no reason other than the station in life into which they were born. It is this utter dissatisfaction with systems of inequity, racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination, that drive us to do our work – which we have been doing across the globe for over 70 years.
First, some considerations for what Starbucks, or any organization trying to create a more just and inclusive culture can do:
- Engage in a process to reflect deeply on their values and which they most prioritize. One tension to explore is that between valuing people and profit. When push comes to shove, which values truly get priority? And what are ways to hold values that on the surface seem to be competing or even mutually exclusive?
- Have an honest assessment of how their core values have been, and are currently being compromised. And include the internal and external communities to craft strategies to make correct the behavior, and create the necessary space for healing to occur.
- Embed the way they want their values to manifest deeply and permanently into their culture. Discard assumptions about how they think things must be done because their status quo approach obviously is not getting them to the goal.
- Institutionalize changes in company strategy, policy, hiring, community engagement, employee development – the whole nine yards – in a way that is driven by their values.
- Put in place a system and mechanism to commit to doing this work for the long-haul, including measuring progress and changes over time to ensure accountability.
We often work with client systems on issues like this, and the work is deep and complex. The few considerations offered provide an overview of the type of areas that need to be addressed, and guiding questions to consider along the way.
In the instance specific to Starbucks, experts have been weighing in on the merits and downfalls of doing a one-day implicit bias training. But that is like debating the value of someone trying to get healthier in doing weight training vs. cardio for a day. It is not a question of, “what is the most efficient exercise?” but a question of, “are you committed to a lifestyle change?” When the answer to the latter is “yes,” then the transformation can begin.
The recent arrest at Starbucks is a drop in the bucket of the oppression and discrimination that happens on a daily basis in U.S. institutions and communities, as well as many countries around the world. As citizens, we must also critique and interrogate the systems of oppression and injustice even when there is not a viral video about an arrest at a coffee shop. We must see it in our dinner tables, communities, schools, places of worship, offices, and beyond.
While there is no “finish line” to creating a more just and compassionate world, there is forward progress. We do applaud Starbucks for choosing to engage to create forward progress, and all those doing work on behalf of values of fairness, equity, and justice in this world.
Sadly, incidents like this will be repeated many, many more times in the coming years. Let us both be outraged by them, and be called to action – to learn, to show compassion, and to improve ourselves and our societies as a result.
James. B. Smith
(Statement written by Tip Fallon and Elena Feliz, Members of NTL Institute)