Airbnb Plans To Fight Racism With Diversity. But Will It Be Enough?
By Brian Solomon and Shelby Carpenter
When the #AirbnbWhileBlack controversy exploded earlier this year, Eric Holder was hardly shocked to hear that Airbnb hosts sometimes discriminate against their minority guests.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised because implicit bias is something that this country has been grappling with for hundreds of years,” the former attorney general and current Airbnb advisor told FORBES in an interview at his law office in Washington D.C. “It will take an entity or individual to come up with something that is paradigm challenging and gutsy to help solve it.”
Airbnb may hope that its new anti-discrimination policy, along with changes to hiring and booking practices, all unveiled on Thursday morning, will have that effect–but right now it will settle for slowing the outpouring of complaints from minority customers. 2016 has been a year of growth for the San Francisco-based home-sharing service, which hit 100 million total guest arrivals and a $30 billion valuation in recent months. But Airbnb’s triumphant arrival as a major competitor to the likes of Priceline and Hilton has been marred by a racial profiling controversy. Many black customers say they were denied accommodations that were later made available to potential white guests.
On Thursday, Airbnb released the results of a 90-day study conducted by company advisor Laura Murphy, former director of the ACLU Legislative Office in D.C., with help from Holder and other prominent civil rights leaders. The report acknowledges discrimination on the Airbnb platform, and proposes a series of internal and product changes to combat it.
“We wanted to not focus on a single remedy, but to surround the issue with a variety of solutions so that nondiscrimination becomes self-reinforcing behavior,” Murphy told FORBES. “A set of policies and practices that reflect all the aspects of discrimination, to put a blanket over the fire so it doesn’t have the oxygen to thrive.”
Those changes do not, for now, include removing guest profile photos from the Airbnb website or app. They do include a streamlined process for reporting and resolving violations, with an “Open Doors” 24/7 customer support team to help users find another accommodation. Starting in 2017, if a host informs a potential guest that he or she cannot book because the home is unavailable, the host will no longer be able to rent out their home to another guest for the same time period. Airbnb will automatically block the calendar for subsequent reservations on those dates, preventing hosts from accepting white customers after they rejected black ones.
Fighting racism starts internally, where Airbnb, like many technology companies, has struggled to promote diversity. This summer, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky admitted that he and his cofounders–in his words, “three white guys”–never considered how their startup might encourage biases. Airbnb now says that it “may have been slow to address concerns about discrimination because the company’s employees are not sufficiently diverse.”
To change that, the company has assembled a new 12-person team of ”engineers, data scientists, researchers, and designers” whose only job is to root out bias on the platform. Airbnb also pledges to increase the number of U.S.-based employees that come from “underrepresented populations” from 9.64% currently to 11% by the end of 2017. Going forward, hiring managers and team leaders will be assessed, in part, on their efforts to diversify their teams, and all candidate pools for senior-level positions must include women and candidates from minority backgrounds.
Source: Found Remote