#RaceTogether: A different perspective on Starbucks’ so-called failure

As the CEO and an alumnus of The Consortium, an organization dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in American business, I followed with great interest a recent LinkedIn post by Tai Tran about Starbucks and its aborted #RaceTogether campaign.

While I generally agree with Tai Tran’s observations in the original post, I feel we are missing the point. In the midst of all the trees, we’re missing the forest.

Starbucks dropped its campaign to encourage dialogue around race. Photo courtesy of Starbucks.

Starbucks dropped its campaign to encourage dialogue around race. Photo courtesy of Starbucks.

Consider this: When toddlers learn to walk, they often fall down. We do not chastise them if they fail. We gently pick them up, brush their knees, wipe their tears, applaud their effort and encourage them to try again.

For 300 years, give or take, we have lived in a racially charged and segregated environment. For much of that time, segregation was pursued and accomplished with what I would consider “evil intent.” Later, that segregation was more indirect. People of color had been precluded from access and opportunity and therefore forced into economic segregation. More recently, we Americans have pursued segregation for comfort. We like to surround ourselves with others like us.

My point is that none of us, irrespective of race and ethnicity, have effectively learned to be culturally sensitive. Because of our collective history, we are struggling to find meaningful ways to come together as a nation and resolve racial and ethnic issues.

Metaphorically speaking, we may not all be toddlers at this point. Many of us are filled with teenage angst. Every day, we are shocked and dismayed because the world does not work the way we think it should. Perhaps, instead, we should adopt the role of the responsible adult. Whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not, we have social issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

Protesting is what we do when we are being ignored; shouting is what we do when no one is listening. Let’s meet, not ignore. Let’s listen and pursue a dialogue, not shout. Let’s understand, address and resolve the issues together. Let’s do as Starbucks suggested. Let’s “Race Together.”

I would prefer to see us applaud Starbucks for the noble effort. Then, let’s figure out how we can help them and others like them learn from missteps. Let’s encourage them to get up, dust themselves off, and try again with new and better information. Why do we expect everyone to be perfect when they are first attempting to do the right thing?

Starbucks is committed to diversity and inclusion. They have been and continue to be a strong supporter of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. They support us with management time, financial resources and by hiring our students and alumni of color into roles of leadership. We need more companies like them.

My message to Starbucks: Continue your diversity and inclusion efforts. You are making important strides. As you continue to learn in this area, your impact can and will be profound.

My message to the naysayers: Get out of the lounge chair. Stop talking and start doing. Hindsight is generally 20/20. If you can find a way to help Starbucks and other organizations like it, race relations will improve and our country will be better for it.