When an employee of Airbnb asked our Autism Advantage students if any of them had used the service, over half of them raised their hands. It’s no wonder. With over four million listings in nearly 200 countries, Airbnb has quickly developed into the preferred way to travel and experience the world for many. Within a minute of being asked this question on a recent tour of the company headquarters, our students were sharing with each other stories of the favorite places they’ve traveled, all while using Airbnb.
The visit to Airbnb was organized through Expandability’s Autism Advantage program, which sources, trains, places, and supports autistic talent in Silicon Valley and beyond. The day began with a tour of Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco, which allowed our students to see how the company structures its policies and workspaces to support Airbnb employees in their work. Our students were particularly interested in the continuous learning opportunities provided to employees. Ranging from financial literacy to leadership, our group eagerly commented on the opportunities Airbnb provides its employees to learn new skills. Additionally, our group took particular interest in the platforms that Airbnb provides employees to teach colleagues their own expertise and unique skills.
Our current cohort is focused on data analytics, and our visit to Airbnb allowed our students to observe real-world applications of data science. In an afternoon session, company data scientists discussed how Airbnb uses data to better serve its hosts and customers. As our students’ education and passions center on data, this was a great way to see how Airbnb uses data to protect consumers and promote innovative experiences.
However, one of the best things about having our Autism Advantage students visit Airbnb was their ability to meet with autistic, disabled, and other Airbnb employees from diverse backgrounds. That fostered a great conversation about how these employees utilize things like employee resource groups to navigate the workplace, build skills, and facilitate culture. As part of this session, members of Airbnb’s Able@ group (a disability employee resource group, one of many employee resource groups at Airbnb) led a discussion about their career experience. This allowed our students to openly ask about navigating the bridge between education and employment, mechanisms and timing in disclosing disabilities, and how disability can be a positive factor in showcasings one’s unique experience and skills.
The visit to Airbnb was arranged by Airbnb’s Able@ group after being connected to our Autism Advantage program through David King, Airbnb’s Director of Diversity and Belonging. During his tenure, King has helped Airbnb build hiring and retention practices to build a workforce which more accurately reflects both its customers and the country. Airbnb has also used its innovative platform to promote equitable treatment of all customers by hosts and to bring the economic impact of Airbnb Experiences to underserved communities. Partnering with the Able@ resource group was a tremendous way to show the integration of disability within the workplace. It modeled for our students how the differences of disability can be treated as variation in the human experience which is normal.
Disabled employees are a valuable talent resource, and one which leading companies are beginning to tap and support. That hiring has an impact. The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities with a desire and ability to work is nearly 28%. In the autistic community, in which our Autism Advantage program works, that rate is 86%. Companies like Airbnb are addressing that disparity by providing recruiting strategies, employment policies, and workspaces which help the diverse pool of their employees thrive.
Autism Advantage is a program of Expandability which recruits, trains, places, and supports autistic individuals in the tech sector and beyond.