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Airbnb Hires Melissa C. Thomas-Hunt To Head Up Diversity Unit

By Victoria M. Walker

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Airbnb has announced that it has hired Melissa C. Thomas-Hunt as the company’s new Head of Global Diversity and Belonging. The announcement was made on May 8 in a statement from Airbnb.

“To have the impact we want on the world, we have to start inside our own walls and make sure every employee at Airbnb feels like they belong,” said Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder, in a statement. “Melissa is a visionary in this space who has spent her career exploring the causes of inequality, finding solutions to promote inclusion, and producing real change. I am incredibly grateful that she has agreed to bring her leadership and expertise to Airbnb.”

Thomas-Hunt comes to the company after an extensive career in academia.

She was previously at Vanderbilt University, where she served as Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence, where she was responsible for helping advance equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus. Before that, she was Global Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

“I felt deeply called by Airbnb’s mission and purpose. Increasing belonging is powerful, compelling and complex to operationalize,” Thomas-Hunt said in the statement. “By continuing to build a diverse and inclusive team around the world, we can help individuals shift and shape their trajectory to realize their full potential, and I am honored to join Airbnb to help achieve these goals.”

Despite the hire, Airbnb will have an uphill battle. The app still has to work on becoming more inclusive for women and people of color. The platform has been criticized for discriminating against Black people. The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack went viral in 2016 after African-Americans said they were systematically discriminated by hosts on the platform.

“The hosts would always come up with excuses like, ‘oh, someone actually just booked it’ or ‘oh, some of my regulars are coming in town, and they’re going to stay there,” Quirtina Crittenden, who had trouble booking on the app, told NPR in 2016. “But I got suspicious when I would check back like days later and see that those dates were still available.”
Following the viral hashtag, the company released a report pledging to make the app more inclusive. A Harvard University study from 2016 found that customers with “distinctively African-American names” were 16 percent less likely to be accepted as guests.

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Victoria M. Walker

Victoria M. Walker is an award-winning multimedia journalist and full-time lecturer in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at her alma mater, Howard University. She was previously the breaking news and viral content video editor at The Washington Post.

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