Airbnb Wants People to Know They Are Serious About Curbing Racism

3D-printed models of people in front of a displayed Airbnb logo. Dado Ruvic/REUTERs

Following a week of weathering unrelenting criticism on social media after incidents of racial discrimination from its hosts surfaced online, Airbnb went on a charm offensive on Wednesday, repeatedly stating the short-term rental company has no tolerance for discrimination.

At its annual OpenAir developers conference in San Francisco, Airbnb emphasized its commitment to diversity and tolerance of all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations when it comes to the right to rent. CEO Brian Chesky opened the event by saying, "Let me make it clear that we have zero tolerance for any amount of racism or discrimination on our platform."

Chesky pledged an "end-to-end" review of the site's design over the next few months to create a more inclusive platform, which may include feedback from victims of discrimination.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says they are revisiting the design of the platform to prevent discrimination

— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) June 8, 2016

The latest series of allegations of racism lodged against Airbnb came last week, when a North Carolina host's racist messages toward a black woman surfaced online. The host was promptly removed from Airbnb and Chesky tweeted that the incident was "disturbing and unacceptable." The stories precipitated the hashtag #Airbnbwhileblack, which has been trending the past several days.

Since then, media outlets have reported similar stories. For example, one professor with a Middle Eastern–sounding name told Fusion that after a series of rejections, she found a room but only when her white friend booked the same rental.

In May, a black man in Virginia sued Airbnb, saying the company was in violation of the Fair Housing Act when it took no action after he was rejected by several hosts due to his race. But after creating fake profiles with photographs of a white man, he found no problems booking a place to stay, he said.

At Openair, Airbnb Vice President of Engineering Mike Curtis echoed Chesky's statement, saying that the company wants to stamp out any unconscious biases its hosts may hold. "Everyday we have the challenge of unconscious bias and other sad realities of the human experience," Curtis said. "But we're committed to halting this with every tool at our disposal."

Immediately following Curtis's keynote speech, David King, Twitter's new "director of diversity and belonging," held a short panel with former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao and former Twitter engineering manager Leslie Miley.

Pao was the litigant in a case filed against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers for gender discrimination. She lost, but the case was still hailed as a landmark trial in Silicon Valley's struggle with gender equality. Throughout the case, Pao was subject to a torrent of misogynistic and racist comments and images from anonymous Reddit users. Since resigning in July 2015, Pao has launched Project Include, which promotes diversity and inclusion in tech. Miley, who now works at Slack, publicly called out Twitter for its lack of diversity in the workplace as he left the company.

Pao encouraged minorities to continue fighting for their voice to be heard. "Feeling like you are empowered is very strengthening," Pao said. "If your words are not having any impact, move to a place where you can" be heard.

Miley added that the agents of real change in diversity come from the top of companies. He lauded Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's swift response to criticize unknown employees who repeatedly crossed out "Black Lives Matter" from a company wall to write "All Lives Matter." "When we have any incidents like these, [the leadership] will have to deal with them swiftly and with certainty," Miley said.