Here’s Airbnb’s plan to fix its racism and discrimination problem

Airbnb has been under fire lately for instances of racism and discrimination exhibited by some hosts on the home-sharing platform. In order to combat that, Airbnb is making several positive changes to the platform and its company policies, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky sent in an email to hosts and guests this morning.

This includes guaranteeing short-term bookings for people who have been discriminated against, deemphasizing the use of user photos, blocking out availability if a host claims a space is taken when it really isn’t and working to increase the number of Instant Book listings, which don’t require hosts to approve specific guests, to one million by the beginning of 2017.

“Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission,” Chesky wrote. “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.”

Airbnb’s issues with racism date back to at least late last year, when a Harvard study showed that renters with black-sounding names were less likely to receive a booking through the site. Then, in June, an Airbnb host in North Carolina canceled a booking on a black person and sent her a slew of racist insults. Shortly after that incident, Chesky said that racism is not allowed on the platform and Airbnb permanently banned the host.

Later that month, the Congressional Black Caucus urged Airbnb to take further action in addressing the issues of racism and discrimination on the company’s platform, citing how Title II of 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in places like hotels and motels on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.

Today, Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. office, laid out Airbnb’s game plan for tackling instances of racism and discrimination on the platform. Airbnb has been working with Murphy since June to ensure that the company is doing everything it can to fight racism.

Product and policy changes to eradicate racist behavior

In the 32-page document, Murphy details Airbnb’s commitment and plan to implement product and policy changes across eight areas.

For one, starting Nov. 1, 2016, anyone who uses Airbnb will have to agree to a community commitment that entails treating fellow members with respect and without judgment and bias. Airbnb’s new non-discrimination policy, developed under the guidance of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who joined Airbnb in July, prohibits content that promotes things like racism and bigotry.

As part of the community commitment, Airbnb will build and release a feature by the first half of next year to address the instances of someone requesting a booking that was listed as vacant but then getting informed that it wasn’t available. Here’s a nugget from the report:

In some cases, it appears that these listings were then made available for the same trip to guests of a different race. Going forward, Airbnb will develop a feature to help prevent this from happening. If a host rejects a guest by stating that their space is not available, Airbnb will automatically block the calendar for subsequent reservation requests for that same trip.

Airbnb has also formed a team of engineers, data scientists, researchers and designers whose full-time jobs are to promote diversity and eradicate racism and bias from the Airbnb platform. One of the team’s first tasks will be experimenting with “reducing the prominence of guest photos in the booking process and enhancing other parts of host and guests profiles with objective information.”

In the event that someone is discriminated against, Airbnb is committed to ensuring that the person finds a place to stay, even if it’s not on Airbnb. For anyone who reported discrimination prior to today, Chesky said that Airbnb will help them book their next trip.

Other changes include the addition of new flagging tools so that people can quickly report discrimination or hate speech. That tool will be expanded and enhanced by January 2017. Airbnb will also offer unconscious bias training for hosts. Once hosts complete the training, Airbnb will highlight them on the platform.

“These changes are merely a first step,” Murphy wrote in the report. “Airbnb understands that no one company can eliminate racism and discrimination. Fighting bias is an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance from all of us. And there is no question that we will continue to see examples of bias and discrimination in society, the sharing economy, and Airbnb in the future. As certain product tools are built and implemented, they will need to be refined and updated. The task of fighting discrimination is difficult, but Airbnb is committed to continuing this work in the future, and I will personally hold them to their word. We all should.”

The changes were developed in partnership with racial justice group Color of Change, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP and others.

Diversity at Airbnb

Companywide, Airbnb is 46.3 percent female, 63 percent white, 7.1 percent Latino/a and 2.9 percent black in the U.S., according to its 2015 diversity report. Today, Airbnb has set a goal to increase the percentage of employees from underrepresented groups from 9.64% to 11% by the end of 2017.

In order to try to achieve that, Airbnb says it will focus more of its recruiting efforts on people from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as from colleges with large Latino populations. Airbnb will also bring on a manager for supplier diversity and encourage more underrepresented minorities to list spaces on Airbnb.

Most importantly, Airbnb will implement a diversity rule to mandate that all senior-level positions include female applicants and applicants from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Airbnb’s stated commitment to considering diverse candidates for its own senior level positions should be considered by other Silicon Valley companies that have largely failed to reflect the diversity of the nation in their workforces,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “This report has not addressed every issue of concern but it is an important step in the right direction.”