The company hit the scene in 2008 with promises of creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere.
As Airbnb grew in popularity, stories about discrimination and racial profiling began to emerge. Some reported being denied a booking, but when presenting themselves as a white person for the same booking and the same period of time, the place suddenly became available.
That “anyone can belong anywhere” slogan didn’t feel inclusive of people of color.
“Airbnb reached out to me in the summer of 2016. There had been reports of discrimination on their platform and they wanted to do something about it,” Laura Murphy, a senior adviser and president of Laura Murphy and Associates, told BET.
The former head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explained the company’s CEO, Brian Chesky, strongly believed in Airbnb’s motto of “Belong Anywhere,” but couldn’t keep pushing that sentiment with discrimination on their platform.
“That led to a conversation with the senior leadership of the company and I came up with some recommendations for the company to implement, which included meeting with civil rights groups on a regular basis,” Murphy said.
Other recommendations presented included looking at how photos are used and setting up an anti-discrimination product team made up of engineers, designers and data scientists all tasked with analyzing discrimination on the platform and coming up with interventions.
“Two of the biggest things the company did was establish something called Community Commitment, where anybody that uses the platform, guest or host, has to pledge not to engage in any form of discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, age, all kinds of statuses, you cannot discriminate,” Murphy said.
The former Attorney General Eric Holder was brought in to help with the creation of a robust and enforceable policy to end discrimination on the platform, Murphy said.
“The three-year report is really the culmination of all the follow-through that the company has been engaged in to deliver on those commitments that were made in 2016,” Murphy added.
Janaye Ingram, Airbnb’s director of national partnerships, told BET she applauds the company’s approach to combating discrimination, which is something that she said was at the forefront of the company’s mission from the start.
The stories and reports of discriminatory practices “allowed us to understand that while we had this mission of creating belonging and creating interpersonal connections, that we weren’t actually always achieving that and that there were people who were having these negative experiences.”
“What drew me to this company was that it has a mission of belonging, and because of that belonging it makes sense that you now have a three-year report,” Ingram added. “It makes sense that you have a company that’s willing to take Laura’s recommendations, who was willing to go the step and hire Laura. And hire General Holder and hire Robert Livingston, to really analyze this problem from a micro level.”
According to the report, Airbnb has improved its operations in specific ways to thwart bias. For example:
The Community Commitment, an explicit pledge to treat everyone with respect, without judgment or bias, is a standing requirement for all existing and new members of the community;
The company has improved access to listings for people with disabilities by developing new and more effective filters to search for accommodation with appropriate features;
Airbnb announced in October 2018 that it would no longer display guest profile photos to hosts prior to the acceptance of a booking request by a host;
In July 2019, Airbnb announced nearly 70 percent of its accommodations can be booked using Airbnb’s Instant Book, which doesn’t require prior approval from the host of a specific guest. This helps reduce the potential for bias because hosts automatically accept guests who meet objective criteria set out by the hosts; and
Offensive or discriminatory content in messages can now be more easily flagged and reported by any user.
“During the last three years, we’ve witnessed the growth of national and international conflicts that are rooted in discrimination and bias,” Murphy wrote in the report.
“Polarization, hateful discourse and violence are at levels that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes,” she continued. “Individuals, communities and corporations are not immune to the impacts of these disheartening developments.”
In addition to the new policies Airbnb implemented to create a better, more inclusive user experience, the company has also taken a closer look internally to ensure their team is reflective of the diverse communities it serves by creating a diversity recruiting team.
They’ve also increased supplier diversity and launched a series of important efforts around accessibility.
“We also have a program called Connect, which is a program that’s designed to attract people from non-traditional backgrounds into tech careers,” Ingram explained.
“Through our partnership with NAACP we do have a recruiting aspect that we’re focused on,” she said. “We also were at NAACP’s conference. We had a booth set up there so that people could come and engage with us.”
With LULAC, Airbnb launched a program called Mujeres Poderosas, or Powerful Women, to help Latinas create their own Airbnb experiences and learn more about home sharing.
“We made an announcement about the partnership at our national convention and its an initiative that seeks to develop a pipeline of new ‘experience hosts’ across the country,” LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides, who is the first woman ever to hold that position in the organization’s 90-year history, told BET.
“I think that Airbnb is sincerely trying to tackle the issues of discrimination,” she added. “This report is only the first step.”
Airbnb will also host mixers nationwide, another way of bringing diverse candidates face-to-face with recruiters. The first event will be a recruiting and supplier diversity mixer in Chicago on September 23.
Ingram said, “We do know that that’s an important way for people who are in communities of color who might not ordinarily get an opportunity to be in San Francisco or to be at another job fair and have those opportunities to come and engage with our recruiting team.”
As the work continues, Airbnb and its team of advisers are confident in the future of the company.
“Airbnb did not shrink in the face of these challenges and it did not allow my 2016 report to gather dust on a shelf,” Murphy wrote in the report. “Instead, Airbnb has taken decisive steps to battle unlawful discrimination and to make its community more open and fair for everyone.”
(Photo: Yu Sun/ Getty Images)