Airbnb Is Taking Steps to Tackle Its Discrimination Problem

The company is stepping up after it found blacks were 16% less likely to be accepted as guests than whites.

Airbnb working to tackle its discrimination problem. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)
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Airbnb prides itself on offering open doors to a community of global travelers, but it turns out those doors may not open as easily for many minority users.

In the wake of mounting evidence proving that users of color have difficulty booking through the company, Airbnb is working on a plan to tackle its discrimination problem, The Daily Beast reported.

In a comprehensive field experiment conducted in response to the growing buzz surrounding the allegations of discrimination, researchers at the Harvard Business School found that black Airbnb users were 16 percent less likely to be accepted as guests than whites.

After Airbnb’s own investigation revealed similarly irrefutable evidence of a race problem, founder Brian Chesky began taking action, calling racial discrimination, “The greatest challenge we face as a company,” according to The Daily Beast. “It cuts to the core of who we are and the values we stand for,” Chesky said.

Complaints from minority users claiming they were unable to secure accommodations through Airbnb first attracted mainstream attention back in 2016, when multiple users took to social media alleging they were discriminated against by hosts who declined to accept their booking requests.

The company enlisted the help of African-American civil rights attorney Laura Murphy. However, due to Airbnb’s unique business model, Murphy found that a legal remedy would be difficult to enforce.

While Murphy navigated the complex legal terrain, step one was for Airbnb to reexamine their own rules of conduct. The company strengthened its nondiscrimination policy, requiring every user to sign a revamped community commitment pact explicitly forbidding discrimination.

However, as The Daily Beast noted, a revision of the company’s code of conduct can only go so far, especially when much of the discrimination at play is unconscious. The heart of the problem is not that “people on the platform say, ‘Look, I don’t want any African Americans,’” Murphy told the outlet. “The biggest problem to me is the unconscious bias.”

Airbnb’s attempts to fight this unconscious bias have included encouraging users to make use of the “instant book” option, which allows bookings to be secured without prior approval of the host, as well as providing reviews of guests from previous hosts.

The company has also employed a team solely dedicated to resolving Airbnb’s bias problem, including engineers, researchers, data analysts, and designers all working to combat discrimination on the platform.

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