A flurry of racial justice sentiments and big-dollar donations came forward from major corporations in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, but the question remains whether companies will align their own practices with those values.
In a newly released interview, taped last Wednesday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky acknowledged that his company and just about every other one have fallen short in achieving racial diversity within their ranks. But he said Airbnb has taken some “fairly bold” steps to address racial injustice, including a recently announced initiative to analyze racial bias on the company’s booking platform.
“Airbnb has not done enough,” he says. “We need to do more.”
“I'm not sure, if you were to ask 100 CEOs, ‘have you done enough on racial diversity?’” he says. “If anyone would feel comfortable saying, ‘yes.’ Because I don't know who has done enough.”
As of 2018, Airbnb’s workforce was 3.5% Black and 7.8% Hispanic or Latino, according to a diversity report made available on its website. The U.S. population is about 13.4% Black and 18.5% Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Airbnb, a privately held company that suffered hundreds of millions in losses amid the pandemic, exacerbated its lack of diversity with a round of COVID-related layoffs in May that affected a quarter of its workforce and fell disproportionately upon employees of color, Chesky says.
“We laid off fewer engineers than non-engineers,” he says. “There are not many Black engineers, and so our diversity was hit by disproportionately laying off non-engineers.”
“So we have a lot more ground to make,” he adds.
Chesky made the remarks to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
In the aftermath of the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, a slew of companies and their chief executives stepped forward to denounce racial inequality and advocate for steps to remedy the injustice.
On June 1, Airbnb donated $500,000 to the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Foundation, and committed to match employee donations to those two racial justice organizations. A couple of weeks later, Airbnb announced a partnership with civil rights organization Color of Change to measure racial bias on its platform in order to eventually develop tools to eliminate it.
“I'm proud of what we've done there,” Chesky says.
But Chesky noted that years from now people will closely scrutinize the actions taken by companies in the wake of historic racial justice protests that swept across the U.S. in June.
“If we're really bold right now, we're going to not look bold by history's standards,” he says. “We're going to look like, oh, you just barely did enough.”
“I told our team: We can choose to be a mirror to society as it is today, a year from now, or five years from now,” he adds.