Starbucks leader to speak on pay equity at Mount Mercy University

Sarah Bowen

Sarah Bowen Starbucks

Sara Bowen believes she is privileged to be doing work on a global scale to help achieve pay equity not only at Starbucks, where she has worked for nearly a decade, but on the world stage.

“Helping to create a more equitable and more just world is the highest calling,” she said by phone last week. “I meet people every day who maybe feel invisible or come from modest or difficult backgrounds and the American dream is not alive for them.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have a position at a global company like Starbucks that allows me to do the work that is my passion.”

Bowen, global leader of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility at Starbucks, will be in Cedar Rapids on Thursday night to speak at Mount Mercy University.

In a presentation titled “Closing the Gap in Pay Equity,” Bowen plans to share some of what Starbucks has learned in the past several years during its efforts to achieve 100 percent pay equity for its employees — whom they call “partners” — throughout the company.

Bowen said it wasn’t until Starbucks calculated the company’s pay equity number for the first time in 2016 that officials realized they’d have to take a more active, and vocal, approach.

“Our pay equity was at 99.7 percent, which was great,” she said. “At the same time, it wasn’t equal. Over a population as big as Starbucks, that wasn’t good enough.


“So at that point we said, let’s do what it takes to get to 100 percent. That’s when we really started putting more muscle behind it.”

One of the early developments Starbucks made about five years ago was developing a pay calculator to help operators determine starting pay for store managers and district managers.

“That was a bit of a breakthrough because we, like most companies, had individual decision-makers setting pay all across the country, and when you have that you have the opportunity for subjectivity to creep in,” Bowen said.

“Where there is subjectivity then unconscious biases can take hold. We created a pay calculator that relies on objective information to set a target starting pay. That was an early innovation.”

The principles Starbucks has identified as being essential elements of working toward pay equity include equal footing, transparency and accountability — ensuring starting pay and promotion pay is determined fairly, reporting pay equity progress each year, regularly analyzing compensation and making appropriate adjustments, and having open conversations around all the work that goes into working toward pay equity.

“We will continue to do that self-critical analysis so we can stay best in class.” With a couple hundred thousand employees in the United State on an annual basis, the work Bowen and her Starbucks team are doing has a ripple effect.

The lecture, part of the Barbara A. Knapp Business Speaker Series, is the perfect opportunity to connect with students especially, Bowen said.

“For students, I like creating awareness that this is a systemic challenge,” she said. “The biases we see around pay for women and people of color is part of a broader system of bias that humans have built over hundreds of years.


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“Students need to understand this so they can be the ones to change the system. They are entering the workforce, advocating for change.”

They are the future leaders, she said, “and they have a part to play in it.”

Bowen said she has been doing more speaking in the past few months, given the timeliness of the topic. She was part of a convening of global leaders pledging commitment to global pay equity at the United Nations and had the represented Starbucks at that meeting.

“We are trying to use our scale for good,” Bowen said. “We share our best practices. We want to influence others and help guide work wherever we can. We are trying to show up wherever we can have that impact.”

If you go

l What: “Closing the Gap in Pay Equity” presentation by Sara Bowen

l When: 6:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday

l Where Mount Mercy University, University Center Commons, 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids

l Cost: Free, but seating is limited

l For more information, go to

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