Bigotry in the workplace? Implicit bias training may improve workplace equity

SOURCE: Kris Connor/Getty Images for HBO/AFP
Bigotry in the workplace? Implicit bias training may improve workplace equity.

By U2B Staff 

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What do renown companies like Starbucks and Sephora have in common? Both enterprise juggernauts have fallen prey to implicit bias. 

According to The New York Times, R&B star SZA, who is black, said a Sephora employee called security to monitor her to ensure that she wasn’t stealing. The incident occurred prior to the launch of the company’s “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign that is meant to outline the brand’s commitment to championing diversity and self-expression. 

Sephora said the campaign was not the result of the incident, but that it reinforced why belonging is more important than ever.


In 2018, two young African-American entrepreneurs Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were waiting at a Philadelphia Starbucks for a business meeting to begin when a manager called the police on them after they failed to order anything. Both were arrested and led out in handcuffs. 

A month following the incident, the company closed its US stores to conduct four hours of racial bias training, with Canada following suit a few weeks later. 

While many would hold organisations to higher standards, the fact remains that implicit bias can affect just about anyone, including numerous other organisations.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is an unconscious belief about a group of people; it can loosely be translated to our involuntary attitudes or tendency to associate certain stereotypes or behaviours towards certain groups of people. It may not necessarily only encompass unfavorable assessments of people.

Implicit bias in the workplace becomes tricky as it can create and reinforce barriers to opportunity for segments of people.

Companies have tried to rectify this by incorporating training in the area. 


Starbucks, for instance, held a series of trainings on a range of topics, including “Mindful Decision Making”, which focuses on elements including understanding the realities and impact of discrimination, being mindful of triggers and pausing to make thoughtful decisions that move beyond bias.

Jen Randle, a principal with SYPartners consulting group and who has helped companies with anti-bias training programmes before, said: “Starbucks is a microcosm of what’s happening in the US,” adding that, “We all have bias. It doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity.”

Implicit bias training can help companies recognise and address these hidden biases that influence hiring and firing decisions in the workplace, to name a few, that can impact growth.


Beliefs such as males make better leaders, women are better at secretarial tasks, or the assumption that staff of a certain race are better suited for certain roles are examples of how implicit bias affects the workplace, and can potentially reduce diversity and reduce equity.

Anti-bias training can be beneficial for companies across all industries. They can help us reduce discriminatory behaviours at work and improve outcomes for minorities. For those in HR, creating more organisational policies and systems can also play a role in improving discriminatory outcomes in the workplace.