Airbnb announced today that it has hired David King as its head of diversity and belonging. The former director of the Peace Corps’ office of civil rights and diversity joined the company last month, and his appointment comes four months after the company pledged to bring a diversity head on board.
Since 2005, King has worked in the public sector on issues of diversity and inclusion. He starting at the U.S. Department of State as its chief of diversity management and outreach, focusing on diversity recruitment, metrics, and outreach, both domestically and internationally. In 2013, he worked at the Peace Corps, where his role involved making sure volunteers felt like they belonged in their respective countries.
He told VentureBeat that one of his goals at Airbnb is to make sure that diversity and belonging are addressed from the top down. King has already met with CEO Brian Chesky to talk about the issues and set out his 90-day action plan. It’s not about updated metrics, he said, but rather “making sure that the notion and ideas that [surround] diversity and inclusion [permeate] the entire organization…How do we strategically make diversity a part of the conversation in the organization?”
In terms of prioritizing needs, King said that his first task is dealing with under-representation of certain groups within the tech force. He’s going to look to recruiters, while also tapping into the internal talent pool to better understand any challenges employees have faced when they joined Airbnb, as well as what brought them to the company. King will also be sitting down with seven employee groups that are a cross-section of the company to find out what they want and whether they feel a sense of belonging. He explained that he wants to start by getting an understanding of the community.
In October, Airbnb released its latest diversity statistics for the company, which has around 2,000 employees. At the time, the majority of employees were male, and ethnic diversity was on par with other tech companies (i.e. primarily Caucasian). Belinda Johnson, the firm’s chief of business affairs, acknowledged the lack of balanced representation, saying: “While we are proud that our global workforce is almost equally divided between women and men…we’re not happy with the overall numbers. They’re nowhere near good enough, and we’re determined to do better.”
One of the challenges King will deal with is critics who say tech companies have been going through the motions on this issue for years and spending millions without moving the needle. His response is: “You don’t know until you try. If you embrace that risk and make it the new normal, you can make a difference. I want to overcome the challenge and I’m ready and willing to field the criticism that I’ll see.”
He believes that he’ll succeed because he’s done similar work before at the Peace Corps. When he joined that organization, women were underrepresented at the senior level, so King and his team went to the federal and private sectors to find leaders they could recruit to serve in the organization in senior positions. He said that in 2013, 30 percent of the upper-level positions were filled by women, but that after concerted efforts over a two-year period, 50 percent of senior leaders were women. “The practice was to be intentional,” he said. “You have to be incredibly transparent in what you’re looking for and why.”
Now, King has found another global company and a compelling mission. “It’s a big job,” he admitted. “I’ll be able to affect change and belonging around the world.”
Airbnb also shared that it has formed partnerships with two women’s organizations: the Global Fund for Women and Vital Voices. In both cases, the company will support the travel needs of members of the organization, similar to what it has done with the Red Cross, Atlas Corps, and Teach for America.