Airbnb Addresses Discrimination Allegations, Establishes New Operation Policies

The Airbnb logo is displayed on a computer screen Aug. 3, 2016, in London.

The Airbnb logo is displayed on a computer screen Aug. 3, 2016, in London. (CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES)

article by Breanna Edwards via theroot.com

Earlier this year, home-rental site Airbnb came under heavy scrutiny after black users of the platform took to social media to describe the discrimination they faced. Most noted that after renters saw their photos, which were included in the booking request, they were denied accommodations. The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack popped up on Twitter and went viral. The company needed to do some serious soul-searching.

“Our mission is to allow people to belong anywhere … and that this issue, the issue of racial bias [or] discrimination on the platform, was a big problem and antithetical to our actual mission,” Christopher Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs for Airbnb, told The Root. “We needed to address this, but to be able to address it, we needed to understand it, consult with the experts [and] listen to people who’ve been on the front line for decades to help us … understand what the challenge was and then, from there, what we can do.”

That aha moment led the company to tap powerhouses such as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, along with Laura W. Murphy—former director of the ACLU Legislative Office, who currently serves as a senior adviser to Airbnb—launched a review into the company’s practices with the intention of confronting and dealing with explicit and implicit discrimination and bias.

“What Airbnb made clear from the beginning is that they didn’t want to simply follow the law … but to do that which would exceed what was legally required,” Holder told The Root. “Change comes when you have tough, honest conversations, which I think Airbnb has done; when you have genuine self-reflection, which I think they have engaged in; and when you come up with proposals for bold action.”

Holder, along with civil rights attorney John Relman and Airbnb staffers, spoke with civil rights leaders for input and ideas about policy changes to address the problems and also to position the company to deal with any future grievances.

“The first time I spoke to the executives at Airbnb, there was a palpable demonstration to be willing to have these uncomfortable but absolutely necessary conversations about how these issues arose … and I thought they were interested in solving the problem and not just responding to public criticism,” Holder said.

On Thursday the company is releasing a report detailing its findings and how it plans to remedy the issues that the victims of discrimination have faced. In doing so, Airbnb acknowledges its own lack of workforce diversity, saying that it plans to create a “new comprehensive plan to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.” According to the report, some 9.64 percent of all its U.S.-based employees come from underrepresented communities. The company hopes to increase that number to 11 percent by the end of 2017.

Part of that plan includes implementing the “Diversity Rule,” which mandates that all vacant senior positions at the company include candidates from underrepresented backgrounds before any hiring is permitted to go forward.

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