Everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion today. In one way or another, it is shaping the way we see corporate boardrooms, the workplace and businesses, by highlighting practices that have commonly excluded qualified talent and contributors based on race, age, personal beliefs and gender. 

But what happens when you finally address the issue of wage inequality, but fail to implement inclusion policies for your customers? That is exactly what happened to Starbucks. They have a public relations nightmare on their hands, following an incident in Philadelphia of racial profiling that has gone viral, with the arrest of two African American men who where sitting in one of their local cafe's for two minutes according to witness accounts. The video has millions of views online and has warranted the response of their CEO to make public apologies as they have recently announced the closure of over 8,000 locations for "racial bias training and education" on May 29, 2018.

On the other hand, Starbucks recently celebrated a major achievement following their gender equality pay policies based on a 10 year study to achieve equal pay for women. They have created the means to address the pay disparity at the corporate level, but failed to address the racial biases on the customer level. 

How did this happen?

Well, the formula is simple. Starbucks only has three women on their board, which is still more than most, but only one African American and one Hispanic American of the 13 member board. Their approach to addressing implicit biases about race is reactive that may stem from a lack of diversity on every level of the board. Think of it -- How can the staff view full equality if their executive branch does not mirror the customer base of patrons that frequently patronize Starbucks locations?

Starbucks is a global networking fixture in many communities. For freelancers and millennials, it is the new library, where free WiFi and meetings are common. We have all done it  by saying  "Meet me at Starbucks" without thinking of the necessity of making a purchase in order to stay for a few hours. However, this incident has opened a new dialogue around the importance of diversity and inclusion policies from a leadership perspective. 

Corporate boards need change.

It is easier said than done. As a woman who has been considered, and passed over for 5 corporate boards in the past three years, I understand the process from an applicant's perspective. Most of the men who sat in those powerful seats, heavily relied on referrals to fill present and future vacancies. Hence, they sought referrals from other members on the board, within their social networks, and most often, from their alma mater.

This practice eliminates an entire pool of qualified applicants who are often referred to in their second selection. This level of exclusion on a corporate board omits candidates from diverse backgrounds, who did not attend well known ivy league schools or network within executive circles. 

It is impossible to build a successful company if your staff does not see a representation of themselves on the board. Other companies, such as Facebook, took a decade to introduce their first African American board member, Kenneth Chenault, on February 5th. With over two billion users, the social media giant's board is still void of the presence of more women and cultural diversity. 

Remember, diversity is not just race.

The most common misconception is that diversity and inclusion is creating a new conversation about race. That's completely false. There are several layers, which fail to be highlighted. A fully diversified company should consider race, the disabled, millennials, LGBTQ, marital status, veterans, and various ethnic groups and cultures. Companies with a lack of full diverse perspectives are susceptible of creating divisive policies that exclude members of their customer base. 

It impacts your customers and/or clients.

I am not sure if a one-time racial bias training will change the way employees treat their customers, especially in an ever changing corporation what continues to experience both rapid expansion and turnover, but it is a good effort. Companies with diverse boards have the ability to implement diverse customer policies that can change the way staff communicates with their customers, pursuant to written guidelines that are drafted by members who understand the their needs, not just those who share the same background as those who have a majority presence on the board. 

The primary takeaway from Starbucks is that a reactive approach to diversity and inclusion is not a permanent solution. Corporations need to implement proactive policies year-round to ensure that customers will not be adversely affected by unwritten rules and practices that are not universal. Thereby, customers will know if they are experiencing bias or if it is a company policy. 

Published on: Apr 23, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.