Global coffee powerhouse Starbucks has come up in our blog discussions in the past, although not always for positive reasons. In 2018 the company made international news when one of its stores in Philadelphia called the police on two Black patrons, resulting in their arrests. Longtime friends Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both 23 years old at the time, were in the coffee shop waiting for a friend to discuss a business deal when a Starbucks employee accused them of trespassing and called authorities. The widespread backlash led the company to implement new implicit bias training.
The news this time around is far more positive from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, however. On December 9, 2020 Starbucks officially named Mellody Hobson as the chair of its board of directors, making her the only African American woman to chair the board of a Fortune 500 company.
Mellody Hobson Leading the Way
“Earlier this year, Starbucks said it was targeting 30% representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) at all corporate levels by 2025,” Reuters reports. “It also said in a recent report that its U.S. partner base comprised 69% women and 47% BIPOC. Starbucks currently has five women on its 13-member board, including Roz Brewer, the company’s chief operating officer.”
Hobson has been a Starbucks board member since 2005 and has also sat on boards at other prominent companies like J.P. Morgan Chase and Dreamworks. But her success is relatively uncommon among corporate boards looking to improve their diversity numbers. “Only 16.8% of large-cap company boards have racially or ethnically diverse directors, up from 13.6% in 2015, according to a September report from ISS ESG, the responsible-investment arm of Institutional Shareholder Services,” writes Danielle Wiener-Bronner in an article for CNN. “Nasdaq recently proposed a rule that would require some companies to have at least two so-called diverse directors, including one woman and one member of an "underrepresented" minority group, which would include Black, Latino or LGBTQ+ directors. And California said in September that starting next year, public companies with headquarters in the state will be legally required to have at least one board member from an underrepresented community by the end of 2021 and at least two or three, depending on the board's size, by the end of 2022.”
But the Road is Long
The contrast in the headlines around Starbucks and race and equity in the last several years highlight the complexity of these issues in major companies across the country. Even while many are making strides in promoting diversity and inclusion, problems like implicit bias remain at varying degrees throughout these massive companies. The question is: what are you doing about it?