Melissa Thomas-Hunt [Credit: Vanderbilt University]

Airbnb hires head of diversity and belonging

Worldwide: Airbnb has appointed Melissa Thomas-Hunt in the role of head of global diversity and belonging.

Thomas-Hunt, who is leaving her position as Vanderbilt University’s vice provost for inclusive excellence, will relocate from Nashville, Tennessee, to San Francisco to join Airbnb in its push for greater workforce diversity.

She will be tasked with the mandate of fulfilling the company’s objective of becoming “authentically diverse and inclusive”.

Thomas-Hunt told The Tennessean: “I felt deeply called by Airbnb’s mission and purpose. We can help individuals shift and shape their trajectory to realise their full potential, and I am honoured to join Airbnb to help achieve these goals.”

The job’s scope was expanded in response to criticism of the firm in 2016 for employing an overwhelmingly white, mail workforce, while its former diversity director, David J. King III, left in 2018.
Airbnb’s workforce was nearly 48 per cent white, 38 per cent Asian, and 11 per cent black or Hispanic at the end of 2018, according to company data.

The rental platform has since vowed to “redouble” efforts to diversify this year in a leaked memo in March.

Airbnb executives have pledged to increase the number of U.S.-based employees from underrepresented groups to 13 per cent by the first quarter of 2020 and to grow its proportion of female representation from 43.9 per cent to 50 per cent.

Airbnb co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, said: “We aspire to be a global leader in diversity and belonging. 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.

“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,” he added.

Thomas-Hunt obtained master’s and doctoral degrees from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and has an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

Her specialisations centred around conflict management, inclusive leadership, and “the effects of status and power on negotiation processes and outcomes”.

Thomas-Hunt said: “Leaders are ultimately curators and stewards of an organisation’s climate and culture.

“My role at Airbnb is to equip them with the skills to connect with individuals across backgrounds, embed conversations about diversity, inclusion and belonging throughout all of our businesses, and to help weave an organisational fabric that enables every member of our global team to feel like they belong,” she added.

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