Questions for Starbucks About Its New Diversity Policy

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Starbucks recently announced that it is tying pay to the accomplishment of diversity goals. Specifically, its goals are to have at least 30% of its U.S. corporate employees and 40% of its U.S. retail and manufacturing employees to be people of color defined as black people, other people of color and indigenous people. It will track them across 14 job levels.

The company reported that its workforce is currently 53.5% white, 10.5% Hispanic/Latino, 8% black, 5.5% Asian, 4.7% multiracial, and 1.3% other.

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Starbucks is following the corporate herd. Other big corporations have announced similar goals, and some have even gone so far as to pledge that 40% of their management positions will be filled by selected races/ethnicities. In some cases, companies have used the catchall term “minorities” in stating their diversity goals.

Although I don’t patronize Starbucks, I have no doubt that the chain knows more about the coffee business than I do. But I doubt that it knows as much as I do about equal opportunity, affirmative action, diversity, and racial sensitivity training. Over my career I was at the leading edge of such initiatives and also had expertise in federal and state anti-discrimination laws and in designing compensation programs. I’ve also had a lifetime interest in the history of race in America and the reasons why there are socioeconomic differences between races and ethnic groups.

Based on that experience, I have the following questions for Starbucks and the rest of the herd:

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  1. How do you define white, black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian?  Do you define them based on physical traits, surnames, ancestral country, or something else?
  2. In what category do you put Egyptians? Palestinians? Turks? Persians? Arabs? Sicilians? Afghans? Pakistanis? Mongolians?
  3. Do you believe that all Asians think alike, see the world the same way, and have identical cultures, whether they’re Japanese, Korean, Han Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Cambodians, Thais, Indonesians, or Malays?  If not, why do you lump them together in the name of diversity?  Do you see the contradiction in this?
  4. Do you have a similar belief about the 100 or so ethnicities/nationalities on the European continent and the Middle East? Do you believe that all of these peoples think alike, see the world the same way, have the same culture, and come from privilege?
  5. How do you determine whether someone is a person of color? Since my Italian skin is darker than the skin of many Hispanics and certainly darker than my Swedish/Scots-Irish wife, am I a person of color? What about the offspring of a Greek and a Korean?  Is that individual a person of color or an Asian or both?
  6. What is your definition of “minority?” Does it include Iranian Americans, who comprise less than one percent of the population?
  7. If you define minority in terms of people lacking in political and economic power, do you consider East Indians to be minorities? How about the fact that most emigrants from India are from an upper caste, or the fact that the Patel clan is the largest owner of independent motels and hotels in America, or the fact that a disproportionate percent of Indians hold high-paid jobs in Silicon Valley, or the fact that 70% of Indian immigrants have college degrees (versus about 7% of Mexican immigrants)?
  8. Does it cross your mind – your mind of pigeon-holes – that it might be demotivating for an employee of yours who is a poor Scots-Irish descendant of coal miners in West Virginia to be told that his opportunities are now limited because of being in the wrong pigeonhole? And do you understand how divisive this is corporately and nationally?
  9. If your objective relative to African Americans is to make up for past injustices and address the horrible problems in many black communities, do you realize how complex those problems are, what the root causes of the problems are, and how little the problems will improve by what you are doing?
  10. Why are you not sued for brazenly violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids making hiring and promotion decisions based on race and ethnicity, among other provisions?  Are you aware that courts and the EEOC have determined that affirmative action is legal in terms of reaching out to historically overlooked communities and increasing the applicant pool; but that it is not legal to set numerical targets for favoring some races/ethnicities and discriminating against others in hiring and promotions?

In closing, you might be interested to know why this Italian doesn’t patronize Starbucks.

First, Starbucks’ founder got the idea for the business on a visit to Italy and watching Italians stop for a quick shot of expresso on their way to work but the high-calorie milkshakes masquerading as coffee at Starbucks are unlike what is consumed in Italy.

Second, being the son of a tile setter and the grandson of an Italian immigrant who worked as a coal miner, I learned that the way to make it to the middle-class was to save money, live below one’s means, and invest in one’s future.  By making coffee at home and not buying a coffee and pastry at Starbucks, I’ve saved at least five dollars a day. If invested, that comes to about $145,000 in 30 years.

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