Airbnb Tackles Negative Press With Diversity Push

Airbnb has been in the news a lot in the past few months and little of it has been good news. Last week, the company was in the news when an Airbnb host in North Carolina used racist language to tell a woman who had just booked a room she was not welcome because she was black. This was just the latest instance of discrimination by Airbnb hosts against African American travelers. The incidents have been so prevalent that the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack was created to document the events.

A recent study by Harvard researchers found that Airbnb guests with distinctly African-American names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted by hosts as identical guests with distinctively white names. The company swiftly took action, hiring civil rights and equality advocate Laura Murphy to help lead efforts to eradicate racism on Airbnb’s service. Murphy is the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office.

Airbnb has also announced that it is working to increase diversity in its workforce as well. In October, Airbnb reported that its workforce is 54 percent male, 63 percent white, 7 percent Latino and 3 percent African American. In March, Airbnb selected its first diversity chief, David King, to accelerate its efforts.

As part of its diversity initiative, Airbnb has announced the creation of Airbnb Connect, a new program designed recruit underrepresented minorities in computer science and data science to its ranks. Airbnb will select 11 candidates to participate in the six-month program, which combines education and paid work at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. The ultimate goal is to be able to offer these participants full time jobs with the company.

Mike Curtis, Airbnb’s vice president of engineering said, “We are determined to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds at Airbnb and we hope that Airbnb Connect opens up new opportunities for people.” The program will work with community organizations like Coalition for Queens, a New York organization that fosters entrepreneurship among underrepresented groups, and Galvanize, a San Francisco education company that specializes in data science, engineering and Web development, to find eligible applicants.

The Airbnb Connect program will take people with two to five years of experience in other fields and teach them the skills needed to work in the tech industry. Three people will be selected through Engineering Connect for computer science education and eight people will be selected for Data Science Connect, learning and working under Airbnb’s data scientists in its San Francisco headquarters. Applications open in July, and the program will start in September.