10 Aug Culture’s Impact on Business: AirBnB Combats Systemic Racial Discrimination
Earlier this month, as a part of our blog series, Culture’s Impact on Business, we investigated how one company’s failure to address their systemic problems related to racial injustice and discrimination has damaged their reputation and success. For this next edition of the series, we will explore how a company with similar systemic problems has recently recognized the need to make a change. While it’s still too early to know how this will impact their success, I predict that by committing to fostering inclusivity as a core value, and by seeking out help to devise a plan to implement the necessary changes within their organization, this company has just taken a huge step to secure their own survival. This goes to show that it’s never too late to acknowledge the systemic issues within your organization, and take action to correct your mistakes.
This year, as part of the larger conversation about racial injustice happening in the USA and around the globe, the hospitality app, AirBnB, faced a lot of scrutiny for discrimination against black guests. This is not a new issue. In 2016, AirBnB was sued in US district court for racial discrimination. With the hashtag #AirBnBWhileBlack, we saw many Twitter users share their personal experiences with discrimination while trying to use the app. And studies by Pew Research Center, Harvard University, and American Economic Journal showed clearly that black guests were much more likely to be denied booking than others.
Online publications like Quartz and Fast Company have thoroughly outlined this problem, from the hard data to the personal anecdotes. Since the case in 2016, AirBnB started removing members who were discriminating against others, but until this year they hadn’t made any systemic changes to combat the root of the issue instead of just treating the symptoms.
It’s never too late to acknowledge the systemic issues within your organization, and take action to correct your mistakes.
In June of 2020, AirBnB announced the creation of Project Lighthouse, where they have partnered with civil rights organizations like Color of Change, LULAC, and the NAACP to research how their system enables discriminatory practices so that it can ultimately create a better, more inclusive system. In their announcement of Project Lighthouse, the company said, “While AirBnB already investigates self-reported, individual instances of discrimination, we don’t currently have a way to measure larger trends and patterns related to discrimination that might be happening across AirBnB. Those individual instances of discrimination may be the symptom of a bigger systemic problem, and we want to fight both.” This statement shows an understanding that AirBnB has to do a lot more to combat discrimination.
When a company commits to making the world a better, more inclusive place, their employees will feel proud to contribute to that company’s mission.
While it is far too early to see whether Project Lighthouse is going to be effective at fostering inclusivity and eliminating discrimination at AirBnB, their partnership with various civil rights organizations like Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, shows that they are serious about doing everything in their power to create a more inclusive platform. To make sure that other tech companies can benefit from their work, they have shared their methodology in a publicly available, technical document. According to the company’s statement they “hope the paper will serve as a blueprint for other companies, and that it can be a starting point for further innovations that rigorously measure discrimination while upholding user privacy.” Beyond the studies, the company donated a total of $500,000 dollars to the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Foundation and released an accompanying statement via Instagram.
Time will tell how successful Project Lighthouse is, but for now the company has made important strides toward creating not only a more inclusive platform for themselves, but, hopefully, a template that similar companies can follow to combat prejudice in their own environments. When a company commits to making the world a better, more inclusive place, their employees will feel proud to contribute to that company’s mission. In our ongoing discussion of company culture it is important to remember that a company can’t have an inclusive culture unless it commits to inclusivity as a core value.
Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.