When Airbnb guests complained they could not find rooms on the platform because hosts were discriminating based on race and gender identity, Airbnb removed hosts found culpable of the behavior and promised it would work on a solution to the trend.

Today, the company shared its initial plans in a report outlining new anti-discrimination policies. "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," wrote CEO Brian Chesky in an email to users.

Lawyer Laura Murphy, who worked closely with Airbnb on designing the changes, said praised their implementation but said more work would be needed in the future.

"These changes are only Airbnb's 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," she wrote in today's report.

Murphy, who formerly headed the Washington D.C. legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, was hired by Airbnb as an outside consultant to help the company deal with issues of discrimination.

Other prominent leaders in civil rights and law the company enlisted to help it draft new policies include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, lawyer specializing in fair housing issues John Relman, and Harvard University lecturer of public policy Dr. Robert Livingston.

The nine steps the company is taking include:

  • Requiring users agree to a commitment to inclusion
  • A more detailed nondiscrimination policy
  • Expansion of options to book listings instantly
  • Reduced prominence of guest profile photos
  • A permanent, full-time team devoted to preventing and addressing issues of bias and discrimination
  • New tools for reporting concerns about discrimination
  • A new "Open Doors" policy whereby the company guarantees a room to guests unable book a room as a result of discrimination
  • Offering hosts a program that trains them to address issues of bias
  • A new diversity hiring policy

Under the new hiring policy, the company will mandate candidate pools for senior level positions include women and minorities. "Airbnb will also expand efforts to bring economic opportunities to minority-owned business and encourage more people from underrepresented populations to use Airbnb," states the report.

Issues of discrimination on Airbnb's platform were highlighted by the viral social media hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack earlier this year. The hashtag emerged following reports by black users that hosts were declining them rooms based on their race and in some cases lobbing racial slurs at them over the platform.

A Harvard University study found Airbnb guests with African American-sounding names were 16 percent less likely than guests with white-sounding names to be offered rooms. Transgender guests have also encountered instances where hosts rejected them based on their gender identity.

Airbnb responded to some publicized instances of discrimination by removing exposed hosts from the platform.

"Once #AirbnbWhileBlack gave a voice to users who experience discrimination on its platform, Airbnb responded with a speed, transparency, and thoughtfulness that's atypical among large corporations and Silicon Valley companies in particular," says Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement. The the leadership conferences was among the organizations that worked with Airbnb in designing the policy changes.

"Among the more promising reforms include the expansion of instant booking, the 'Open Doors' rapid-response initiative to deal with issues of discrimination as they happen, and efforts to address implicit bias among the company's hosts and employees," he says. "This report has not addressed every issue of concern but it is an important step in the right direction."

Published on: Sep 8, 2016