Fewer than 20 states in the country prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national originwith an expansion to the law in 1988 to include discrimination based on disability or family statushousing discrimination continues to this day, though sometimes in less obvious forms.
Airbnb, founded in 2008 as "a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world," has changed the way people travel. But it is not without its share of controversy, ranging from charges of questionable apartment listings to race and sexual orientation discrimination. But how does a company address what is essentially a societal problem that is manifesting itself on the company's platform? For Airbnb, it begins with starting from within.
Airbnb's worldwide commitment to equality in the workplace includes domestic-partner benefits, transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits, an LGBT employee resource group and gender-neutral bathrooms at their full offices in the U.S. The company also supported the repeal of North Carolina's anti-LGBT HB2, scored 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index this year and is a member of HRC's Business Coalition for the Equality Act.
Windy City Times interviewed spokesperson Nick Papas to learn what Airbnb is doing externally in an ongoing and multi-faceted effort to fight discrimination by race, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Windy City Times: What else does Airbnb do to support the LGBT community?
Nick Papas: Airbnb provides an economic empowerment tool for everyone, including many members of the LGBT community, that makes it possible for people to turn what is often their greatest expensetheir housinginto an asset. We have heard countless stories of people in Chicago and around the world who use Airbnb to help pay the bills, meet new people and to show people the city, community and neighborhood that they love. We've found that this is really an economic lifeline and an opportunity for people from different countries and cultures to connect with one another. That is incredibly important in terms of breaking down barriers and promoting understanding.
WCT: What is Airbnb doing to help prevent discrimination?
NP: We looked at every facet of our platform with an eye towards how we can prevent discrimination. That resulted in a series of recommendations, including the new community commitments. Beginning Nov. 1, everyone who wants to use Airbnb will have to affirmatively signal that they agree with a very basic statement of principles that makes clear that they will not discriminate against anyone because of who they are, where they are from or who they love.
We also have a new policy called the Open Doors policy: if anyone believes that they have been discriminated against, they can call us and we guarantee that we will find them a place to stay. We are also implementing a range of other tools to help fight discrimination: we have a new permanent team of engineers, data scientists and product experts whose sole focus is fighting discrimination and promoting diversity. We're working very hard to diversify our team and ensure that our employees reflect the diversity around the world.
Discrimination has no place on Airbnb and we are absolutely committed to continuing to learn from our community and listening to experts in this field. We spoke to leaders from the civil-rights and LGBT communitiesa range of different individuals and organizations that helped inform the steps that we announcedand we're going to continue to do that.
WCT: I read that Airbnb is fighting bias with technologytell us more about that.
NP: One of the things that experts have learned is that we all have biases, some unconscious and some conscious. We want to work with folks to fight that unconscious bias. So we're working with Dr. Robert Livingston, who is a nationally known expert in this field, to develop an unconscious bias training that will be available to all of our hosts. It is a succinct but comprehensive training that helps people fight the biases that they might not know that they have.
That is one important step that we can take to help break down barriers and ensure that our community is fair. We offered this training to folks at the Airbnb Open in Paris last year, an event that brings hosts and guests together at one location. This year, we're dramatically expanding that training to make it available to more people by putting it online.
WCT: How open were people to taking the training? I know I've taken an unconscious bias test before and it gives you a warning because a lot of people don't necessarily like hearing their results. Or worse, don't think they need it.
NP: I think we've found the vast majority of the people in our community are eager to welcome people from different cultures and folks who don't look like them. A big part of why people become Airbnb hosts is that they want the opportunity to meet people that they wouldn't normally interact with on a regular basis. When we talked to our people about the training and outlined the principles behind it and why we're doing it, folks were quite receptive and eager to participate.
We're in the process of deploying that training for everyone and will learn more as we go forward. Airbnb has long prohibited discrimination … there is an example in Texas where a gay couple checked into a listing and was told by their host that she objected to them because they were gay and we promptly removed the host from our website. This has long been something that we have believed in, but we recognize that we need to do more. This is just the beginning of our efforts, not the end, and we are committed to continue to work on this.
A more detailed report on Airbnb's updated policy on fighting discrimination and building inclusion can be found at blog.airbnb.com/fighting-discrimination-and-creating-a-world-where-anyone-can-belong-anywhere/ .