*The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack is not going away.
In fact, more and more people are using it to describe personal accounts of racism on the popular home-sharing service – so much so, that reps from the service are meeting with civil rights leaders in Washington D.C. on Thursday (June 23) to try and find ways of rooting out the discrimination.
The invitation-only, off-the-record meeting is being convened by Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy, and Laura Murphy, the civil rights advocate tapped by Airbnb to lead a comprehensive review with the goal of eliminating bias when hosts rent their homes, according to USA Today. Among the attendees are Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
With Thursday’s meeting, Airbnb officials are looking for input on steps the company can take “to move towards our shared goals of a more fair, just and inclusive society,” according to the invitation sent by Murphy and obtained by USA TODAY.
Airbnb invaded the hospitality industry by giving people the power to rent their homes and pick their guests over the Internet. But in the process, it unwittingly enabled people to act on their biases. As previously reported, African Americans, transgender people and other minority groups have complained of being turned down by hosts. A Harvard Business School study last year found widespread discrimination by Airbnb hosts. Earlier this month, Airbnb removed a host for using racial epithets against a 28-year-old Nigerian woman trying to book a stay in a North Carolina home.
CEO Brian Chesky has already owned up to the problem. This week, he pledged Airbnb would toss hosts found to be racist or homophobic. At his company’s OpenAir conference earlier this month, he said Airbnb was scrutinizing the design of the service “from end to end” to make it more inclusive. Airbnb says it expects to announce findings from the review in early September.
“There’s been a lot of news about prejudice and bias on our platform, and this is a huge issue for us,” Chesky said. “We have zero tolerance for it and we will take swift action.”
“Airbnb wants to make sure that it treats everyone, including African American travelers, fairly and with dignity and respect,” according to the invitation to Thursday’s meeting.
Last week the Congressional Black Caucus jumped in, urging Airbnb in a letter to Chesky to move aggressively to root out racism.
“Racism and any form of discrimination should never be tolerated in our society,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina said in a statement. “Members of the CBC are deeply concerned about recent reports of exclusion of African Americans on the Airbnb platform, and we sincerely hope the leadership of Airbnb will take the issue of discrimination seriously and implement common sense measures to prevent such discrimination and ill-treatment of its customers in the future.”