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3 Ways to Reduce Racial Bias in Retail (R3)

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

In a 2018 Gallup poll, 29% of Black Americans reported unfair treatment while shopping in the last 30 days, the most happening in the retail space, even when compared to interactions with the police (21%).

In response to racial bias in retail, major retailers have been trying to remedy their mistakes by closing stores and holding racial bias trainings such as Starbucks after two young men were arrested while waiting for a friend before ordering or Sephora following a viral tweet by famous singer SZA being followed in one of their stores.

And while the efforts by Sephora and Starbucks are important through the stance that their leadership teams are taking and their commitment to diversity related initiatives (i.e., Starbucks 2022 Goals), how can other retailers be on the side of preventing the situations that occurred at Starbucks and Sephora from hitting the national news?

Dick’s Sporting Goods has been a champion on the front of preventing racial bias through a month-long interactive training called R3 (Reducing Racial Bias in Retail). In partnership with our very own Dr. V, the Dick’s Sporting Goods team, and Open to All, a nonprofit coalition whose principle is that when a business is open, it should be Open to All, this training was developed. If you want to read more about the partnership, check out this article in Forbes. R3 begins with a store-wide kickoff by store leadership and managers to discuss the importance of this type of training, and how it impacts all individuals who come in the stores. The training also includes videos and discussion conversations that employees can engage in throughout the month, while getting paid for the time spent having these race-related conversations.

While there are quite a few articles on why diversity training, specifically unconscious bias training, fails, the R3 training seeks to bring long-term impact by not only being interactive, but is based on best practices found in research (i.e., perspective taking, empathy, role modeling). Moreover, we also included quantitative measurements pre and post training, as well as work with companies to develop internal metrics for impact measurement in the short and long-term following the R3 training.

So, when it comes to addressing racial bias in retail, what do we recommend?

  1. Be clear in what issue you are trying to solve in terms of racial bias. Are you trying to decrease racial profiling or are you trying to increase diversity of your employees? These are different goals and should not be lumped together in a training. In R3, we are specifically trying to give employees the tools and phrases to treat every customer with respect.

  2. One of the resounding themes that we found through talking to employees and customers about their experiences in retail and with racial bias in retail, is that leadership sets the tone for each store. Whether it’s having training for managers to equip them with the language to have conversations with their employees about racial bias, or simply getting buy-in from managers on the importance of racial bias training, managers are key to the success of any intervention in the retail space.

  3. Hold your employees accountable for their actions. When we ask individuals to provide reasons for their actions, they take a second to think through their actions moving forward and taking that second to pause in their actions can reduce biased-behavior.

You might already have an unconscious bias training that you use in your organization. But if it’s one that doesn’t specify goals and the actions needed to achieve those goals, it’s simply going to fall into the large group of diversity trainings that happen once a year, are a check in the box activity, and nothing changes. If you don’t know where to start internally but recognize the importance of properly addressing racial bias in the workplace for behavior change, hiring an external consulting firm that specializes in DEI can help you design a roadmap for your organization and use processes that may already be in place to streamline the training at your organization. Reach out to schedule a free consultation with us and take the beginning steps of addressing racial bias.

Julie Chen, M.A. is an IO & DEI Project Lead at Mattingly Solutions and also a PhD candidate at the University of Akron. Learn more about and connect with her here.


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