Starbucks closed its 8,000 stores on May 29, 2018 for implicit bias training, with a curriculum guided by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, and President and Director-Council of the NAACP Defense and Education Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, among others. This is the second mass closing in the history of the 47-year-old coffee chain, and was precipitated by an incident in which two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after asking to use the restroom (This event occurred in 2018).

Starbucks is not the only organization confronting implicit bias. Mega-brands such as H&M, Nike, Google, and Dove have endured intense backlash over racial and/or gender tone-deafness. While training is key to avoiding future missteps, what is often overlooked is the person who is actually doing the training. She or he is essential to ensure an effective outcome. An instructor must provide an open and safe environment for conversations that can often be awkward and uncomfortable. A successful trainer allows for ongoing dialogue and insight that contribute to a positive process.

Here are some suggestions on what to look for when selecting a trainer.

Check out their LinkedIn testimonials.

Take special note of endorsement’s subtle points: audience interaction, takeaways, and presentation quality.

What about soft skills? Are the presenters seen as warm and engaging? Do they listen? Do they speak to the audience rather than at them? Regardless of the topic, no one wants to be lectured to.

Hold a pre-meeting.

A presentation specific to your company’s needs will be much more effective – and have a deeper resonance with your staff – than a canned presentation. A pre-meeting will ensure a customized discussion.

Discuss their approach.

Implicit bias is a weighty topic. If the presentation is mandatory, staffers may approach the meeting with all the enthusiasm of a visit to the dentist. Discuss with the trainer how they approach the topic.

I often start my implicit bias presentations with a card game: Buffalo, which was designed by Dartmouth University’s Tiltfactor Lab to subliminally address prejudice. It is a light, fun, and unexpected way to open a path to a deeper conversation.

Review the trainer’s history.

Implicit bias is a particularly in-demand seminar topic nowadays, and you’ll want to watch out for presenters following the trend without the experience needed to provide meaningful dialogue and learnings. If they are relatively new to the topic, you may want to consider including more seasoned trainers in your search.

Corporations that overlook implicit bias training run the risk of reputation damage, loss of staff, bad press, and (in some instances) legal action. Having a trainer who is well-versed and skilled in presenting such a sensitive topic will assist any company – whether it’s a Fortune 500 corporation or a regional firm – minimize those risks, while also providing information to benefit the business and its staff long-term.

Jennefer Witter is the chief executive officer and founder of The Boreland Group Inc. and is an active public speaker presenting on unconscious bias, gender-based workplace conversation and professional growth topics. 

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  • Witter is the chief executive officer and founder of The Boreland Group Inc. She has appeared in Fast Company, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Radio, Crain's New York BusinessForbes, Business Insider, and AMA Quarterly. Witter is an active public speaker, presenting on regional, national and global platforms, on unconscious bias; gender-based workplace conversation; public relations, communication and professional growth topics. She is a passionate advocate for women in the workplace, and is an active member of Ellevate Network, a global networking organization for women, and serves on the advisory board for Women in Power, a 92nd Street Y led venture that seeks to support and promote senior level women to C-level positions.