Airbnb has achieved astounding success. And with it, all kinds of backlash.
CEO Brian Chesky says the main thing that keeps him up at night is not the trouble he is having with cities, including Airbnb’s home town, San Francisco.
The big problem that worries him is today is “the discrimination we are having on our platform,” he told attendees at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference on Tuesday in Aspen, Colorado.
He’s talking about the #AirbnbWhileBlack hashtag on Twitter, and the Medium story that went viral in May about the troubles one man had booking an Airbnb because he’s black.
A black woman in the audience spoke up about how she had trouble booking Airbnb for new employees after her picture was shown in her profile. She believes that part of the problem is the diversity numbers of Airbnb employees. “So you have people around the table who can design for inclusivity.”
Chesky says, “I totally agree. What happens inside the building manifests outside the building. There’s no question we are late.”
He also said, “As a founder: I think we were late to this issue. We were so focused on an issue of trust and keeping people safe, responding to other people’s issues on trust and safety, that we took our eye off the ball.”
He said that Airbnb is in the process of a 90-day study on how it can address the issue, including what kinds of design changes he needs to make to Airbnb to deter discrimination.
“When we designed the platform, three white guys, there were a lot of things we didn’t think about,” he says. “There are racists in the world and we need to have zero tolerance.”
He said when that Medium story went viral, he sent an email to the company explaining that he didn’t just want to “address the issue,” which he described as a term that CEOs use that means taking the minimal amount of action to cover the company for liability.
“If we tried to ‘address the issue,’ I think we’ll be on the wrong side of history,” he said. On the other side, if he can figure out how to eliminate the discrimination on Airbnb with technology, he thinks Airbnb can become an example. “We can drive change the rest of world will mirror.”
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