Airbnb Hires Diversity Chief

Employees of online lodging service Airbnb work in the Airbnb offices in Paris on April 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Martin Bureau—AFP/Getty Images

When noise about the tech industry’s mostly homogenous faces became noticeably loud a few years ago, one after the other, tech companies started to appoint heads of “diversity.” Last summer, home-sharing company Airbnb joined the trend when it decided to hire its first “Head of Diversity and Belonging,”as the company calls it.

It took half a year but on Friday the San Francisco company announced it has hired David King III as its first diversity chief. King, who recently relocated to San Francisco from Washington, D.C., previously held similar roles at the U.S. State Department and the Peace Corps. After a three-year stint at the latter, he decided to head west and eventually landed at Airbnb.

“I wanted to make sure I joined a company that was mission-driven,” King told Fortune in an interview about his decision to join the home-sharing company whose nearly two-year-old slogan is “Belong Anywhere.”

In January 2015, Airbnb publicly released the demographic breakdown of its workforce for the first time, joining a growing number of tech companies doing so. (Fortune took a look at several major companies’ data and how they compare.) In 2014, roughly 47.5% of Airbnb’s U.S. employees were women, 6.1% were Latino, and 2.8% were black, and it showed similar numbers for the following year. The company also recently disclosed how it was able to double the ratio of women on its data science team by redesigning its recruiting process.

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At Airbnb, King’s responsibilities will be span across multiple areas. Along with hiring, he will also pay close attention to the company’s culture and workplace policies, and how they affect employees once they’ve been hired—the “belonging” part of his job title.

“It needs to come down from the top,” King says of his philosophy about company cultures that foster diversity. At the State Department, for example, he worked directly with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the agency’s diversity, something he plans to do with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky as well.

Though he’s been on the job barely two weeks, King already has ideas and plans, including blind evaluations during hiring, mentorship programs, and fostering internal employee advocates to represent various groups of employees to help with recruiting as well as shaping internal policies.

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But King is also aware that he has his own blind spots like any other person. “I have expertise in this field but I’m not an expert,” he says, adding he relies on others around him to fill the gaps.

Echoing King’s comments, Paradigm founder and CEO Joelle Emerson told Fortune that the most important thing a company’s leadership can do is to take the time to listen to their employees. Paradigm, a consultancy that helps companies create more diverse and inclusive cultures and policies, has been working with Airbnb for the last few months. It also counts well-known Silicon Valley startups Slack and Pinterest among its clients.

On Friday, Airbnb also announced partnerships with the Global Fund for Women and Vital Voices, two nonprofit organizations focused on increasing economic and political opportunities for women around the world. Airbnb plans to support the organizations’ travel needs, the company says.

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