This morning, the Silicon Valley unicorn (currently valued around $30 billion) finally addressed this issue with an external report published on its blog. The report, titled “Airbnb’s Work to Fight Discrimination and Build Inclusion,” was written by policy-specialized attorney Laura W. Murphy, who is also the District of Columbia’s former Director of Tourism). It includes a message from Murphy, a list of challenges and a list of anti-discrimination product and policy changes Airbnb has now committed to.
“I had to ask: was it realistic to expect Airbnb to do better than others in the travel and lodging business and be a leader in overcoming longstanding industry practices and widespread bias?” wrote Murphy.
She writes that what initially persuaded her to forgo her skepticism and believe that change is possible at Airbnb was a series of conversations with key stakeholders including CEO Brian Chesky, who admitted the company has been slow at addressing the problem.
“He agreed and was personally concerned that there was an unacceptable lack of urgency around Airbnb’s previous attempts to address allegations of racial bias within the Airbnb community, and vowed that such unconsciousness would not happen again,” Murphy said.
But the team has formulated a plan. Here are the nine changes Airbnb is making to combat discrimination on its platform:
The Airbnb Community Commitment
Beginning November 1, 2016, everyone who uses Airbnb must affirmatively agree to uphold the following commitment before using the platform:
“We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”
A new nondiscrimination policy
Airbnb says by agreeing to the new Community Commitment customers are also agreeing to follow Airbnb’s strengthened and more detailed nondiscrimination policy, which is stronger than what is required by law.
A new team dedicated to fighting bias and promoting diversity
Airbnb has assembled a permanent team of engineers, data scientists, researchers and designers whose sole purpose is to advance diversity and inclusion and eliminate bias.
If more stays are booked through Instant Booking, fewer hosts will have a chance to discriminate. Airbnb will accelerate the use of Instant Book with a goal of making one million listings bookable via Instant Book by January 2017.
Reducing the prominence of profile photos
Because many guests have asked Airbnb to remove profile photos from the platform, Airbnb’s new product team dedicated to fighting discrimination will experiment with reducing the prominence of guest photos in the booking process in favor of enhancing other parts of profiles with objective information.
Airbnb has developed new tools to quickly and reliably route concerns regarding discrimination to the appropriate team of trained specialists.
The company is implementing Open Doors, a policy that ensures Airbnb will find guests a place to stay if they are not able to book a listing because they have been discriminated against.
A new training program for hosts
Airbnb will offer new training to help people learn how to fight bias, and will highlight hosts who have completed this training.
A committment to diversifying the team
Airbnb is implementing a Diversity Rule, which will mandate that all candidate pools for senior-level positions include women and candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. Airbnb will also expand efforts to bring economic opportunities to minority-owned business and encourage more people from underrepresented populations to use Airbnb.
The report emphasizes that these are just the first steps:
“Fighting discrimination will require constant and ongoing work. The internal working group that produced this report will continue working to both implement these initiatives and evaluate additional steps Airbnb can take to ensure the Airbnb community is truly fair for all. “