#AirbnbWhileBlack: Unconscious Bias

15th September 2016

Diversity consultant Michael Howard looks at the importance of unconscious bias training in light of an incident that had negative publicity for Airbnb.

You might not think that unconscious and conscious bias impact on the bottom line of your business, but recent ‘controversy’ around Silicon Valley startup Airbnb has shown how businesses everywhere need to address these issues to avoid impacting their margins.

A Harvard University study found that Airbnb requests from guests with distinctively African American names are roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.

This led to numerous accounts from black people who had experienced racial discrimination when attempting to rent a property from an Airbnb host sharing their stories on Twitter using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack, according to an article on DiversityInc.

Airbnb responded to this highly visible attention on their unconscious bias issues by revising its nondiscrimination policy and released a 32-page report outlining how it plans to counteract discrimination on the website based on race, gender, age and even name.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky outlined in an email to hosts and guests outlining the efforts, saying:

Beginning November 1, everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy. We aren’t just asking you to check a box associated with a long legal document. We’re asking everyone to agree to something we’re calling the Airbnb Community Commitment, which says: We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

As this negative episode for Airbnb shows, the need to go beyond your business norms is fundamental in avoiding potential discrimination as you may not foresee certain issues. With Airbnb, even the impact of pictures and names led to hosts making discriminating decisions about the people they accepted reservation requests from.

Airbnb now plans to make its anti-bias training program available online and intends to highlight hosts who participate, as well as ensuring that all staff receive unconscious bias training.

The bottom line is to get unconscious bias training for your whole team now, rather than waiting for an incident that impacts adversely on the business and risking negative publicity, particularly with regards to equality and diversity issues.

Find our about Marshall E-Learning’s Unconscious Bias training or contact us now for more information.

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