Anti-Discrimination: What Airbnb is Doing Right 9:58, July 27, 2016

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Anti-Discrimination: What Airbnb is Doing Right

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Airbnb announced it is hiring Former US Attorney General Eric Holder in a robust campaign to stop bias and discrimination. By analyzing their efforts, companies can find real examples of what it takes to tackle discrimination and bias both in the workplace and in modern society.

The Problem

While the United States has come a long way since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there is more work to be done. Discrimination is stealthier and less explicit, pervading workplace hallways, city streets, and our collective consciousness. For example, gender discrimination is a huge issue in 2016. We have seen it arise in sexual harassment (a form of gender discrimination) in the National Park Service and allegations against Roger Ailes’s tenure at Fox News, and gender bias in the tech industry and medical field. Discrimination also appears in failures to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities, and unconscious bias, as acknowledged by justices of the US Supreme Court.

Because discrimination and bias are more nuanced than before, organizations must take additional steps to counter it. It is not enough to “simply address the issue by doing the least required for liability and PR purposes,” maintains Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Certainly, both are business realities, but tackling discrimination and bias requires a deliberate attack plan involving policies, leadership, culture, people, and purpose.

A Great Start

In An Update on the Airbnb Anti-Discrimination Review, Chesky outlines the work he and his organization are accomplishing. While its anti-discrimination review is still ongoing, and it comes in the wake of multiple claims of discrimination against Airbnb hosts, Airbnb provides immediate and tangible ways for organizations to tackle discrimination and bias.

(*)   Hiring experts. Consultants who have subject matter expertise and who are removed from the daily operations of a company are critical to managing large issues like public policy or anti-discrimination campaigns. In addition to hiring Holder, Airbnb has brought on a civil rights attorney and a renowned academic researcher. Not all companies can hire nationally recognized experts, but they can bring outside help to evaluate and advise on how to do better.

(*)   Monitoring. Organizations should actively ferret out bias and discrimination. Airbnb is performing an internal audit, performed by a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union, and hiring full-time employees “to detect and address instances of discrimination” within the organization. Organizations don’t have to micromanage or perform operational lockdowns to get critical information that’s incorporated in everyday operations. Compliance officers can fulfill this role, but some Chief Compliance Officers are finding it difficult to break into companies.

(*)   Developing policies. A strong policy provides a strong compliance backbone for any company. Airbnb is using Holder and other experts to craft a better discrimination policy and “will require everyone who uses [Airbnb] to read and certify that they will follow this policy.” New California law requires employers to include explicit information about the sexual harassment complaint process and which personnel to reach out to for help in their company policies. Policies are important to guide employees, vendors, and clients to do the right thing.

(*)   Training. Interactive training geared towards changing behaviors and attitudes is a critical facet of eviscerating bias and discrimination. Airbnb provided unconscious bias training to individual hosts who attended a certain event, and is working to improve the content and make it available to more members. Online training has come a long way from the “check-the-box” modules complete with goofy, over-the-top pictures and scenarios. Effective training should address real-world situations and behavior.

(*)   Culture. All the experts, policies, and audits in the world won’t do much good if a company’s culture doesn’t welcome positive change. There’s something to be said about an organization’s leaders getting input from employees about discrimination and even admitting not being “fully conscious” of discrimination and owning up to “prior mistakes and delays.” Work cultures should be a hybrid of compliance and purpose. Glassdoor ranks Airbnb as the #1 place to work in the United States.

To be sure, Airbnb has faced legal issues in both housing policy and discrimination. Efforts like these are surely noteworthy to the public as well as Airbnb users, litigants, courts and regulators. But there’s a big difference between putting out internal compliance fires and taking tangible, public steps to tackle discrimination and bias both in the workplace and globally.

We at LawRoom are proud to call Airbnb a client and support its efforts to go beyond the public and legal calculus to try and affect real and lasting change. We are all responsible for tackling discrimination and bias. For more information on how Airbnb fosters its workplace culture with online compliance training, check out our Airbnb case study.

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Douglas Kelly
Douglas Kelly is EverFi's lead legal editor. He writes on corporate compliance and culture, analyzing new case law, legislation and regulations affecting US companies. Before joining EverFi, he litigated federal and state employment cases and wrote about legal trends. He earned his JD from Berkeley Law and BBA from Emory University.

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