After months of customer complaints, AirBnB is finally instituting policies to address widespread reports of discrimination.
On Thursday, Airbnb released a 32-page breakdown of new protocol aimed at preventing discrimination between hosts and guests. The report (read it here, via their blog) is a direct response to public criticism from Airbnb guests over the past year, many of which had to do with Airbnb hosts declining requests based on profile pictures.
As part of the policy refresh, engineers will be assigned specifically to handle discrimination complaints. The report—which outlines “some of the steps Airbnb is taking to make our community fair for everyone”—also mentions “anti-bias training” and a pledge to have hosts honor a “community commitment” starting in November.
Via The New York Times:
The commitment asks people to work with others who use the service, “regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”
In addition, the company plans to experiment with reducing the prominence of user photos, which have helped signal race and gender. Airbnb said it would also accelerate the use of instant bookings, which lets renters book places immediately without host approval.
In March, Gregory Selden, who’s black, sued Airbnb for failing to adequately respond to his complaint about a discriminatory experience in the booking process. The class-action lawsuit alleged that an Airbnb host declined to book Selden, but that the host later approved requests from fake accounts that Selden set up featuring photos of white men.
Tons of stories about similar racially biased encounters have since surfaced under the hashtag #AirBnBWhileBlack. NYT cites a study from a Harvard research paper, which “concluded it was harder for guests with African-American-sounding names to rent rooms through the site.”
To quell some of the fallout over the past few months, Airbnb recruited former ACLU director Laura Murphy to oversee the report, which reads in part: “There have been too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like.”
Airbnb also commissioned civil rights attorney John Relman and former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as consultants on the matter. Holder told The Root, “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.” It helped, because Airbnb appears to be feeling all gooey on the inside now and has even instituted a plan to improve diversity across the board. The Root reports:
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.
The company also plans to increase efforts to recruit from HBCUs and from schools with large Latino and female populations, as well as expand its effort to bring economic opportunities to minority contractors. The report notes that only 1 percent of Airbnb’s total procurement goes to minority-owned businesses, and the company hopes to increase that to 10 percent by 2019.
According to Airbnb’s blog, CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky sent an email to Airbnb users that reads in part:
Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.”