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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky Takes Stand Against Discrimination

June 8, 2016, 7:32 PM UTC
TO GO WITH AFP STORY by ELOI ROUYER A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016. Berlin will from Sunday, May 1, 2016, restrict private property rentals through Airbnb and similar online platforms, threatening hefty fines in a controversial move meant to keep housing affordable for locals. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
John MacDougall — AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb has a discrimination problem among its users, and it knows it.

“We have zero tolerance for any discrimination,” said Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky on Wednesday as he kicked off the company’s annual engineering-focused even in San Francisco, adding that the company is taking real steps to address that.

Chesky comments came at the heels of recent headlines about black users experiencing disproportionate discrimination by hosts or guests on Airbnb’s home-sharing website. Along with individuals who have spoken up about their own experiences being denied a booking because they’re black, a recent Harvard Business School study found that it’s a very real trend. According to the study, guests with a “distinctively African American name” are roughly 16% less likely to have their request accepted by an Airbnb host. Some entrepreneurs are also devising alternative services for black guests and hosts.

Over the weekend, television show producer Shadi Petosky, who is a transgender woman, tweeted about being denied an Airbnb rental after she disclosed to the host that she was transgender.

“Discrimination has no place in the Airbnb community. We are removing this host from Airbnb,” the company said following the headlines. At the time of the incident a year ago, Airbnb did no remove the host after Petosky privately complained to the company.

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However, Airbnb seems to now be making it known that it takes discrimination, both inside its company and among its users, very seriously. At Wednesday’s event, Chesky added that the company plans to review how its website and apps are designed and address any areas where the product facilitates discrimination.

“Our goal is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere,” said Mike Curtis, Airbnb’s vice president of engineering, earlier on Wednesday. “We take it seriously and we’re taking action.”

The company’s event also included a speaker panel on the topic of diversity in Silicon Valley, including former venture capitalist Ellen Pao, engineer Leslie Miley, and David King, Airbnb’s newly hired head of diversity. King said that Airbnb plans to look at “machine learning models” and “other tech tools” that could help its service minimize discrimination among its guests and hosts.

With that said, Airbnb will still face a long road on its quest to eradicate discrimination. Bias and discrimination are “sad realities of the human experience,” as Curtis said, and marketplaces like Airbnb bring those to the surface.