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How to foster true diversity and inclusion at work and community |Rosalind G. Brewer | Ted

Visit to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more. When companies think of diversity and inclusion, they too often focus on meeting metrics instead of building relationships with people of diverse backgrounds, says Starbucks COO Rosalind G. Brewer. In this personable and wide-ranging conversation with TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers, Brewer invites leaders to rethink what it takes to create a truly inclusive workplace -- and lays out how to bring real, grassroots change to boardrooms and communities alike. The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You're welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know. Follow TED on Twitter: Like TED on Facebook: Subscribe to our channel: TED's videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy ( For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at


Rosalind G. Brewer 0:12

Hi, Roz Brewer, thank you so much for being with us here today. Thank you for having me. We can just dive right in. I think, you know, we're right now in the in the last quarter of 2020. And, you know, I think that a lot of people would agree that we're in the midst of what's probably one of the largest reckonings around racial equity that we've had in this country in decades. And it's something that you've been such a vocal advocate for. And you're both through your role at Starbucks and throughout your career of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And so I'm curious just to hear from you to start with a conversation, sort of what this moment means for dei efforts, not just in corporate America, but in business in general,

Unknown Speaker 0:54

you are right, that this has made many of us that are in the corporate setting and beyond to rethink the position on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. You know, let me start with, you know, the conversation about where are we actually in diversity and inclusion in the corporate setting. And I will tell you that this is actually putting a spotlight on the weaknesses, and maybe the lack of forethought and intensity that we should always have maintained on this subject all along. One of the things that I think it's in highlighting, for most of us is that our biggest opportunity is inclusion. Because, you know, I have heard this stories, so many times about there's, you know, no black talent out there no Latinx talent for these particular roles, the talent is out there, I will tell you that it's underdeveloped. Because I think we have spent more time trying to reach numbers than we have changing our environment where people feel safe, where they feel they can come to work and be their whole self, give it everything they've got be their natural self, and be respected for it and applaud it for it. And for people to recognize and appreciate their differences. And understand that there are differences and if they're included in the conversations, that they're just a better resource for the company. So I think there's so much opportunity in the inclusion space, because we focus too much on meeting metrics.

Unknown Speaker 2:26

And, you know, I think, earlier this year, when the protests began, right after the death of George Floyd, we, we saw lots of organizations put out sort of these, these statements of solidarity, these commitments to, to do more to be inclusive, both in their workspace and further their customers and people who support their work. But then you also hear you know, I've heard a lot of business leaders say things like, you know, we want to do something but don't really know where to start. And so I'm curious to hear from you just sort of what do you think are ways that you actually can make a real difference when it comes to thinking about diversity and inclusion and and avoid sort of this performative justice?

Unknown Speaker 3:06

Yes. So there's a few things that I think about in this space. First of all, when you think about an inclusive environment, you think about Am I being heard, and you know, most people with differences, they want to know that you are heard, and that you're seen. And I really applaud the companies who've been spending time just putting themselves on a learning journey, you know, holding listening sessions, trying to make sure that we've got, you know, different viewpoints, when big decisions are made. You know, there are some companies who are engaging their partner networks in ways that they've never done before. I think those are some early success factors that could lead us to different kinds of conversations. And I've been listening to a lot of my peers in different industries, and they're having their own personal aha moments. And they're actually checking themselves at the front door, you know, saying I never thought I never knew I didn't know what I was doing. When I said x, or when I did this, right. And so I think it starts with some very simple things, you know, I'd say that there's a lot of steps to take before training and development, that's for sure. So those that are jumping quickly into training and development, I'd say put a pause on it. And just get back to grassroots and hold listening sessions and then decide what do you want to do? And then help those people of diverse backgrounds engage in those conversations about how they want to see change happen. You know, they're they're the best resource for a lot of this and a lot of these discussions. I mean, I learned so much. I have breakfast sessions with the baristas and partners at Starbucks regularly. I just had one yesterday. And when my screen popped up, I had nine diverse randomly selected partners, we call our employees partners, and it was such a rich conversation. And they began to network while I'm talking to them, right? They were learning from each other. And this wasn't a diversity conversation, we were actually kicking off our new financial year at Starbucks. And so this was actually a business conversation and a touch base to see how are you doing? While we're working remotely? And you know, it starts there with building relationships and learning people for who they are, and engaging them and saying, I see you, I hear you, that goes such a long way that, you know, I think if we do more of that, I even think the engagement and performance just goes through the roof.

Unknown Speaker 5:37

I mean, and so I want to hear you saying that is that it's less about, you know, this short term, how can I respond to this moment right now, and it's more about long term engagement with people and making this part of the fabric of how you do your work. And so I'm curious also, to hear a little bit about just, I guess, if you if there is a timeline, when people think about how quickly they should be responding to, to protests until to sort of what's happening in this in this cultural moment. You know, what, what should we actually be looking at as far as when when we see this change actually materialize and take effect?

Unknown Speaker 6:16

Yes, so I think there are some short term things, there are some really key partnerships in the communities around, you know, around our localities that are really important to also engage in some of the listening and learning sessions as well. I learned tons from you know, organizations like the legal defense fund from the n double A CP and engaging those partnerships that we've had over the years, but changing the discussion of the conversation about how do we partner together, because one of the things I fear, you know, for being a retailer, like, like Starbucks is, and many other companies is that I want my partners to feel not only safe, comfortable, heard and seen in the company, I want them to have that same experience in the community. And so that's when it comes full circle, I really want you know, diverse bipoc, you know, employees to feel like, you know, I make a difference. First of all, I vote every year, I'm engaged in my community, and then I'm engaged in work, so I have value. And so I think there are some key partnerships that should happen right now. So that we can make sure that our employees feel like they have a full way to engage in this change. That's underfoot right now.

Unknown Speaker 7:35

And then I wonder on conversely, you know, what sort of pitfalls Have you seen business leaders fall into, that are actually just not effective and are not supportive of efforts to be more inclusive? And to diversify? What are some of the things that haven't worked?

Unknown Speaker 7:51

Yeah, you know, I I worry about the race for for numbers, you know, to meet numbers, because, you know, you will find I found many times in my career is that, you know, some of our best leaders have good intentions, but they don't understand they, they don't understand that, you know, the partner sitting next to them that looks different from them. And so I worry about when we raise to numbers, because you know, what, we're the kind of country we live in the world we live in, we all know how to make numbers work, what we don't know how to do is to build strong relationships that are lasting, that are valued. And I think that's where we need to start is relationship building and key partnerships. So I worry about the numbers base.

Unknown Speaker 8:37

And so of course, you know, I think we all remember, a few years back, Starbucks had a very public, you know, issue were embroiled in that incident in Philadelphia around racial discrimination, that led to Starbucks taking sort of a step back and thinking about inclusion and implicit bias and racial sensitivity. And it's, um, you know, how did that experience help prepare you for this year, both as an individual business leader, and then also as an organization? How did it help you approach what we've been experiencing in this country in the past few months.

Unknown Speaker 9:11

So that was a real example of leadership, and actually where Starbucks had failed in selecting the right leadership for that store. And to give you an example, you know, the person that was running that store was a very young up and coming leader for the company, and to put her in a store in 18th and spruce in Philadelphia, you know, was an opportunity for all of us. So, in retrospect, one of the reasons why we did the anti bias training was to make sure that we began those conversations and when I talked about not just training, that training was very unique because it was self engaged. They weren't being taught by an instructor. They had to have conversations with their peer burries is around diversity and inclusion amongst themselves. So it wasn't moderated by any leader in the company, it was self instructed. And the conversations that were created once we had that kind of relationship building, you know, we had some of our baristas asking us, can I take this home and talk to my father who never let me take the black girl to the prom? You know, it was we started what we felt like a movement and a discussion that we had been able to really use from that point on, in terms of the way we want to escalate the conversations and make change happen at Starbucks, and not only at Starbucks, but in our communities. Because there were quite a few organizations that we reached out to that we have, we're still engaged with today that are helping us build, you know, community leadership as well.

Unknown Speaker 10:51

And is that the goal? I mean, you mentioning an employee who wanted to take their learnings home, is the goal in thinking about how you approach these issues as a as an organization for your employees and your your partners, to sort of see how they can move this beyond just their their work life?

Unknown Speaker 11:07

Sure, you know, we, you know, a lot of this starts at home, you know, it starts with what happens if that's your dinner table, right? And so we can, we can correct what happens, and we're responsible for what happens when you come to work at Starbucks. But we also realize that, you know, we can only get them ever so far. But if you're at the table, having some conversations that are counter to what you're learning in the workplace, you can't help but slow down your growth and your change. And so a lot of the work that we do around diversity and inclusion is open sourced. So when we created the materials for the work, when we had the closing of our stores on May 28, we had given that to so many other companies, for them to use. And you know, even we are doing some work right now around courageous conversations. And in this remote world, we're allowing our partners to bring their families onto the camera or listen in the room as we have courageous conversations on diversity. So if if Starbucks has a keynote speaker on a certain diversity topic, we invite the family. And it's been really, it's been great. A lot of our senior executives have said, you know, this is starting new conversations with my teens at home, who are either getting bullied, these are changing the conversations about why we questioned some of the actions that we have around our house. And so you know, we need to understand that to embrace this issue. It is not as small as numbers is not as small as just the workplace it is it is very comprehensive. So we're trying to do something different here, to change the conversations, and then actually grow inclusion in a very, very grassroots way at Starbucks.

Unknown Speaker 12:52

And, of course, I would imagine as a black woman and a business leader that these issues hit really close to home for you. And I'm curious, just with your interactions with other with colleagues and counterparts at other organizations, that perhaps maybe there isn't that same level of investment, because it isn't something that's as important personally. And I'm curious how you are able to sort of begin those conversations with colleagues and counterparts were in positions to bring about this sort of change in their own organizations or within Starbucks. How do you get them invested? And how do you frankly, get them to care about this?

Unknown Speaker 13:31

Yeah, that's a very good question. So I have two children have a daughter's 17 in the sun. That's 25. And, you know, quite honestly, when that situation happened in our Starbucks stores back in 2018, my son was the same exact age as Dante and Rashad and looks a lot like them, by the way, and would have been sitting in a Starbucks dress the same way they were. So that incident alone was deeply personal to me actually made me grab my chest, right, because I knew at any given moment, my husband or my son could get pulled over, and I get that call in the middle of the night. So it's deeply personal for me. And what I try to do is I share stories. And I talk very openly about my family and what we do on the weekends, and our holiday traditions and all of those things. And I have no issue with someone leaning over to me, maybe one of my white counterparts saying, I don't understand that. What are they talking about, you know, when they hear something that's, you know, a little bit different than their culture, and I'm wide open to explain and have those conversations because I feel like I really want to be a conduit for that. I always tell everyone, no questions, you know, too small or too big, even with everything that's going on right now in our environment around social unrest. I've gotten tons of calls from, you know, my white peers at different companies saying rounds. What do you think what are you hearing help me out here? I'll drop everything because you know if I can help and I'll tell the story And I think most people know if they've known me over the years, I'm pretty Frank and outspoken. And I'll also tell them when they've really messed up and, and what they need to do about it. And so I think, you know, I want more black leaders to feel just as confident in doing that. What I've seen no risk in it, I do realize that it begins a new relationship with some people. And some people can't take the tough conversations, but it's time for tough conversations.

Unknown Speaker 15:27

And I mean, to that point, I imagine there are probably also people who, because these conversations are tough and uncomfortable think, you know, maybe it's easier or better to just avoid having to, to do that and to have have those conversations, these discussions to stir the pot in some ways. And so I What do you say to the people who think let's just try and lay low? And you've heard some of this too, in this moment, let the moment pass so that we can get back to business as usual?

Unknown Speaker 15:55

Yeah, well, I first started off by saying how disgusted I am by that statement, because you know, leaders lead in the moment, and you never know when you're going to be called upon. And if this isn't a calling, I don't know what is. And so when I get that call, and say, you know, I just think I should take the backseat and just kind of let you know, this brew here and that Calm down, you know, we need to all it's an all in moment. And, you know, leadership is not designated by your title is designated about how great you can create followership and you know, having thought leadership, just it, you know, people underestimate the opportunity to pick up the phone and call someone and say, How are you? How is this affecting you? How can I help, that's pretty simple, you might decide, it's something I can't help with, but you better darn sure pick up the phone, and start feeling out the environment in your employee base and your peers and your leaders. Because the time is now. And so I don't give them an out. I actually try and push them over, you know, the edge, because sometimes they are just kind of stuck, like, what do I do. And then the other thing that I, you know, personally have to do is to make sure that they understand that because I am at this level where I am, I'm not excluded from these issues, right? I know that when my husband jumps in his vehicle, I worry every time if he's out in the evening, that he may not come back home the same way he left, I feel that way for my son and for my husband, I still get even when I go shopping, I still get the look, am I stealing, you know, watching me as I walk around the corner, and I don't know what else or how else I can look or act any different. So I just act like myself, I used to get dressed to go shopping. Now, I never do that. If I'm spending my money, my money spends everywhere. And if I get that feeling that you're going to race me around the store that I'm going to leave, and that's your loss. But I still get that. And I so I worry. So I also try to help people understand that, you know, this is not this is not a socio economic once you've sort of made it, you're out of the water. No, we're still as you know, someone with differences, visible differences, you're still at risk.

Unknown Speaker 18:18

And you know, so much of this conversation also is about who's in leadership and who's making these decisions and representation right at at, you know, high levels. And I know that you've been really vocal about your own experiences, as a woman of color, person of color as a black woman, in you know, these executive positions and often feeling you are the only one in some rooms and sort of the isolation of that, but also the challenges in making choices and getting things done when that's the case. And so I am curious, also, what are the opportunities that this moment presents for us to perhaps approach this differently? And how can people at different organizations who are looking to bring people in to positions of leadership? How can we approach this differently so that we can begin to see more people of color in these roles?

Unknown Speaker 19:14

Sure. You know, it's been my experience that I see tons of great, diverse talent coming into companies, and then they're stuck. And what I see is the pipeline is very weak at a certain level. And once it gets to the point of trying to, you know, decide on a succession plan for who's next in line for the big jobs, there's this great talent that's like that, that mid level manager area, then there's a big gap, and then there's maybe two at the top. And it puts a lot of pressure on those two on the top to try and go down and grab those that are just maybe been with a company for two to five years and lift them up. So you know, what I think about is how do we give extraordinary experiences to our young Get diverse talent, so that they can get that exposure early on, and begin to develop early on just like their white peers. And I think sometimes we celebrate too much that they are part of the company. But we what we need to celebrate is where's their progression? Where's their opportunity for growth, who's listening to them, and who has their hands on them. And, you know, one of the things that we're doing at Starbucks is really having structured mentorship. But the mentorship looks a lot more like being a sponsor. And so you are, you know, our executive leaders will be responsible for the development of our young, diverse talent, and making sure that they're getting that exposure and those opportunities. And just imagine if you're a new hire in the company, and someone wants to meet with you at a senior level, you know, once a month, twice a year, even, that's game changing. And so we have to, you know, reach our young talent early. And now this pipeline has got to close, it's got to, we've got to fill it up and close this gap. Because if not, I don't see a pathway for diverse executives, C suite executives in the next, I would say, three to five years, I don't see a lot of placements happening.

Unknown Speaker 21:22

And are you? Are you hopeful in this moment, do you, you feel like we are making progress towards this?

Unknown Speaker 21:28

It's early days, I'm hopeful. I feel good about the conversations that are happening. I'm seeing change in people thinking more about themselves, you know, when they you know, my white counterparts are questioning some of their actions. And so I feel like, we can't let this moment leave us and what we're learning about it. I think if you know, what I'm really optimistic about is that now, I think more people understand that the less diverse and less inclusive we are. It's more than a business imperative. When we combine the pandemic, and we see the inequities of a pandemic, on a diverse community, and we talk about how that happens, how people are underrepresented in healthcare, underrepresented in their housing, they can see that this is a groundswell moment. And the more we realize that and talk about that complexity, then the solutions begin to happen. And I think that's happening more and more. So I'm optimistic about that, because we're looking at the ills of diversity, lack of diversity and inclusion, and maybe looking at much broader solutions for it than

Unknown Speaker 22:50

what we had in the past. Thank you so much, Ross. This was such a meaningful conversation. It was great to hear your insights. Thank you.

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