Standing Up For Equality In the Office

Taking a leaf off the page of Starbucks and its CEO

Taking a Leaf off The Page of Starbucks and Its CEO

Howard D. Schlutz, the CEO of Starbucks, is a man known not just for his entrepreneurship skills but also for his social initiatives and business ethics.

With over 20,000 stores in 64 countries, Starbucks is a global brand that takes its responsibility and role in the world very seriously.

In the words of Schlutz himself, the man behind Starbucks social involvements,

“Companies should not have a singular view of profitability. There needs to be a balance between commerce and social responsibility. The companies that are authentic about it will wind up as the companies that make more money.”

True to Schlutz’s beliefs, Starbucks, has developed a reputation for valuing its employees, training them to the highest level and treating them with tolerance, respect, and dignity.

For as long as Starbucks has been the around, the franchise has always made a visible effort to stick to its core principle of embracing and honoring diversity among people, whether based on race, sex or sexual orientation.

How Starbucks Stayed True to its Beliefs

Over the last few months the company received a lot of flak for vocalizing their stand on legalizing same sex marriage, with several of its customers pledging to boycott Starbucks and its products while many others threatening to sell their shares at the franchise altogether.

While certain leaders expressed concern over the financial loss the company was heading towards with its controversial stand, CEO Shlutz firmly refused to budge from his stance and made an announcement regarding the same at an annual shareholders meeting in Washington. Schlutz had said,

“(This) is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company and we want to embrace diversity – of all kinds.”

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This is not the first time Starbucks has stirred its customers into discussing socially relevant issues.

Earlier in March this year, the franchise started its “Race Together” campaign following the tragic events that led to the white police killings of black victims.

The next time you walk into a Starbucks and handed a cup of coffee with the words “Race Together” on them, it is because Starbucks intends for you to have open race dialogues with your companion or at the very least think about the importance of equality in our world today.

The campaign has received tremendous media attention and appreciation, while Schultz said in a statement,

“ We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America. Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”

I don’t believe it could have been easy for a global and popular franchise like Starbucks to embrace their views, as controversial as they may sometimes be, so wholly and completely.

And perhaps if it wasn’t for their idealistic CEO, the company would have buckled under the pressure of the public a long time ago.

Several websites, such as, have popped into the scenario following Starbuck’s attempt to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, but in a display of integrity that is rare in the business world, the global franchise haven’t yet changed their mind or statement.

Does Inequality Still Exist?

It is no secret that discrimination, of all types and in varying degrees of severity, exists even in today’s day and age, even in countries like America.

You, as a manager, may not be the one doing the discrimination or perhaps as a white, heterosexual employee, you have never been at the receiving end of such discrimination, but don’t let that fool you into believing that discrimination does not exist.

Because it does.

Why, even Starbucks, with its idealistic views and high principles, have had incidences of its employees being treated with disrespect.

Last year, a customer at a New York Starbucks witnessed an employee attacking her peer for being homosexual.

The customer promptly put up the incident on her blog, and the very next day Starbucks, in a public letter on its website, voiced their support of the LGBT community and  promised to investigate the incident thoroughly.

The high ideals of the CEO of Starbucks do not necessarily pass on to each of the 200,000 employees of the franchise.

Similarly, your peers, superiors, and subordinates perhaps do not share your belief in equality.

The business world requires more people like Schlutz taking a firm stand and refusing to be silent witnesses to the inequality and unfairness rampant on office floors, in interview rooms and around conference tables.

Dealing with Inequality in the Office

Every company should establish firm policies regarding the conduct and treatment of employees, and chalk out clear disciplinary actions for those engaging in unacceptable behavior.

If you are particularly concerned about discrimination at your workplace, it is advisable to encourage your employees to discuss their problems and concerns with you.

Give your employees reason to trust you and to believe that you will be fair and just, regardless of what the situation might be.

Praise your employees in public, but criticize them privately

Remember to practice before you preach however, because ending discrimination at a workplace has to start with the boss.

Praise your employees in public, but criticize them privately. Make sure you use the same tone with everyone and never reprimand a worker openly.

Above all, put yourself in a workers shoes before making any decision.

This does not mean that you should go easy on your employees, but there is a fine line between being a good and a bad boss and the challenge for every superior is to recognize this line and to stay on the right side of it.

Set an example and choose your words and actions carefully, because employees often tend to mirror the actions of their superior.

Schlutz had famously quoted,

“Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee.”

By taking a firm stance for what is right and refusing to give up on your beliefs, perhaps your business could also be held as a shining representation of something beyond its products, of higher principles and ideals.


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Pursuing an MSc in Geology, apart from science, writing on HR has always been one of my greatest passions.