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Experts Question Corporate Inclusion Training


Employees at Sephora cosmetics went through inclusion training this week. It came about after the singer SZA said she was racially profiled at one of the stores. But does that kind of training work? Here's Karen Grigsby Bates from our Code Switch team.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: SZA is best known for her platinum songs "Love Galore" and "The Weekend." But right now this yet-to-be-released cut is getting a lot of attention.


SZA: (Singing) Sephora, I love Sephora, just cannot afford the things up in there. I used to work there. The only...

GRIGSBY BATES: In April, SZA says she was accused of shoplifting while in a Sephora in suburban Los Angeles. Like SZA, Canadian beauty blogger Paris Grant is a former Sephora employee. She vented about SZA's experience on YouTube.


PARIS GRANT: Isn't it ironic how SZA has an unrelased song called "Sephora" (ph). And then she goes to Sephora, and Sephora, or a Sephora employee, wants to accuse her of stealing. How ironic is that?

GRIGSBY BATES: Sephora did not give interviews about its SZA situation, but it released a statement saying it closed all of its U.S. stores, distribution centers, call centers and corporate offices on Wednesday for, quote, "a one-hour inclusivity workshop with our 16,000 employees" - something the company says has been planned for more than six months. And Sephora had company, as NBC reported last year.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There is a firestorm tonight over what happened three days ago at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, where the police were called in. And two black men were arrested.

GRIGSBY BATES: The men's offense - waiting to meet a third person without ordering anything. Starbucks famously closed some 8,000 of its stores for a half-day of diversity and inclusion training.

EDWARD CHANG: I mean, it's a big deal to close all of your stores, even just briefly, to devote time to training your employees.

GRIGSBY BATES: Edward Chang is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and studies diversity and discrimination in organizations. He says the corporate closures are well-intentioned and cost money. But...

CHANG: If you ask someone to change the culture of a company on any issue not just diversity, and their response was, OK, we're going to train people for an hour to change the culture of a company; that, at its face value, kind of seems ridiculous.

GRIGSBY BATES: Frank Dobbin is a Harvard sociology professor who has studied the efficacy of diversity training and efforts over decades. He says more companies are mandating diversity training, but forcing people to go isn't so effective. Another way might be, though.

FRANK DOBBIN: Similar kinds of training work better when they're voluntary. And you can see how if, you know, the CEO says, we'd really love for everyone to be there - I'm going to be there - then people go. And they think, oh, I'm going because managers need to do this.

GRIGSBY BATES: Dobbins says when another component is added to training, it works even better.

DOBBIN: It helps if you do training in conjunction with, for example, having a diversity task force or having a mentoring program.

GRIGSBY BATES: In other words, a sustained effort, which is exactly what a Starbucks spokeswoman says the company is doing. Since last year, small groups of employees and managers have been meeting to discuss how better to incorporate inclusion at all levels. Some companies understand their futures depend on inclusion. According to Nielsen, black women spend 80% more on cosmetics than their non-black counterparts. So it's critical for Sephora to get it right, says Harvard's Frank Dobbin. Otherwise...

DOBBIN: There's a lot of competition, and people can go to somebody else.

GRIGSBY BATES: And if they don't have a good experience, they just might.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "UNSHIELD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.