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    How community feedback makes Airbnb more inclusive

    Host and guest stories can help the anti-discrimination team uncover inequity.
    By Nanako Era on Oct 1, 2020
    5 min read
    Updated Oct 1, 2020

    Highlights

    • Identifying potential areas of inequity within our products helps us meet the needs of guests and hosts

    • Creating a safe space for community feedback helps us have honest, candid conversations

    • Partnering with allies within Airbnb improves our efforts to remain inclusive

    Nanako Era joined Airbnb in 2015 and is the lead researcher on the anti-discrimination team. In this role, she works to find ways for hosts and guests—regardless of their background—to have more equitable experiences on the platform. She strongly believes that as product developers, we have the opportunity to help ensure that some groups of users aren’t put at a disadvantage over others on our platforms.

    Upon moving to the U.S. from Japan at the age of six, I couldn’t speak a word of English. Kids bullied me, and strangers often scoffed at my parents’ imperfect grammar and pronunciation. This experience taught me the feeling of being “othered” as a result of physical appearance or language, but it also helped shape the researcher I am today.

    My passion lies in helping to ensure that I represent the voices of community members who could potentially be marginalized throughout the process of improving our product. As the lead researcher on the anti-discrimination team, I get to do exactly that.

    Through conversations with hosts and guests from across the country, I’ve found that some members from marginalized communities are putting in much more effort in order to travel or host on Airbnb compared to non-marginalized members. This gap in how marginalized and non-marginalized groups use online platforms is what our team calls the “experience gap,” and closing this gap often starts with gathering community feedback.

    Here are three ways that my team is helping to uncover any experience gaps that might exist through community feedback:

    1. Identifying areas of inequity

    In the technology industry, many people responsible for building products use a notion of an "average user"—like an "average guest" or "average host"—to figure out how to build or design something. But an "average user" doesn't exist, and by designing for this imaginary user, they may ignore the individual needs of countless other important customers—often marginalized groups.

    At Airbnb, we try to view our hosts and guests through the lens of inclusivity and strive to:

    • Challenge our assumptions: Questioning the idea that everyone uses Airbnb in the same way can uncover how some groups of hosts and guests may be using Airbnb in a completely different way. For example, in my conversations with participants with disabilities, we learned that they often put in the extra work of assessing listings for accessibility before they book by carefully reviewing photos and contacting hosts about accessibility features, like the dimensions of a doorway. By continuing to question our assumptions, we can uncover experience gaps and explore product changes to address them.
    • Gather diverse feedback: When recruiting participants for community feedback, when possible, we intentionally choose individuals of varying identities, such as age, gender, race, and disabilities. This helps us identify any experience gaps that exist for various groups so that we can try to take steps to close them and create a more inclusive product.

    2. Addressing sensitive topics tactfully

    Building rapport with participants is especially important for sensitive topics like discrimination, where they may not feel as comfortable opening up and sharing what they’ve experienced. Here’s how we’re working to help create a safe space for Airbnb research participants:

    • Making conscious language choices: As researchers, we try to understand the appropriate language to use when talking about sensitive topics with different groups of users. For example, using people-first language when discussing disabilities is important in the U.S. (for example, a “person with a disability”), whereas in the U.K., it’s more common to say “disabled person.” Making an effort to be aware and respectful of these nuances helps us build trust with our participants.
    • Keeping our researchers’ backgrounds in mind: When moderating sensitive feedback discussions, we try to stay aware of how our identities and backgrounds as researchers may affect how comfortable our participants—who may identify differently—feel about discussing these topics with us.

    3. Working with allies at Airbnb

    Finding allies within Airbnb who can elevate our work helps us better ensure the community feedback we’ve collected is used to create more inclusive products. We find allies by:

    • Putting stakeholders in our users’ shoes: As researchers, we often try to find ways for our colleagues and stakeholders to better empathize with our host and guest community. For example, as part of gaining allies for in-home accessibility, I paired members of Airbnb leadership with travelers with disabilities and had them play the role of a “personal concierge.” In this exercise, our leaders asked questions about travelers’ trip preferences and accessibility needs before trying to find the perfect space on Airbnb for them to stay. This helped our leadership team better understand what travelers with disabilities are searching for when booking a home on Airbnb, which helped them empathize and support this work even more.
    • Showing the business impact of inclusion: We also try to gain allies for this work by demonstrating to our stakeholders how focusing on marginalized populations can directly impact our hosts’ business, causing them to capture more potential bookings. When we include marginalized populations in our work, we’re better able to create an inclusive product that helps our hosts grow their business significantly.
    • Uphold our mission and values: Our mission at Airbnb is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, which means that we work to make hosts and guests feel like they’re part of a welcoming community wherever they are in the world. Our research and partnership with allies is foundational to supporting the efforts of our leadership team and other stakeholders to try and fulfill this mission.

    Discrimination can be a difficult, nebulous topic to address. But while a milestone might not seem like much in the larger journey of solving discrimination, each one helps us get a step closer to achieving equity.

    At Airbnb, this includes milestones like our profile photo update, which prevents hosts from reviewing guest profile photos until after a booking is confirmed, and the launch of Project Lighthouse, a tool to uncover, measure, and more effectively fight discrimination that someone may experience when booking or hosting on Airbnb.

    By continuing to collect diverse community feedback from our hosts and guests, together, we can help create a world where everyone belongs.

    Learn more about how we're working to create a more inclusive product at airbnb.com/against-discrimination and airbnb.com/accessibility

    Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.

    Highlights

    • Identifying potential areas of inequity within our products helps us meet the needs of guests and hosts

    • Creating a safe space for community feedback helps us have honest, candid conversations

    • Partnering with allies within Airbnb improves our efforts to remain inclusive

    Nanako Era
    Oct 1, 2020
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