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Airbnb Investigates Allegations of Sexual Harassment Against a Top Chinese Exec

Dennis Schaal, Skift
Airbnb Investigates Allegations of Sexual Harassment Against a Top Chinese Exec

A group of Airbnb female employees in China sent a letter to Airbnb executives alleging gender discrimination and misconduct by a senior leader of Airbnb China. According the letter, the executive allegedly talked with colleagues about his scorecard that ranked the physical appearances of women employees in China and San Francisco.

The letter, dated June 11, obtained by Skift, and signed by “your angry employees in China” — believed to be the initiative of four women in that country — is embedded below.

Although he wasn’t named in the letter, but was only described as “the legal representative of the company’s operating entity, Airbnb Internet (Beijing) Ltd. in China,” Skift has has learned that the executive under fire is Yanxin Shi, who’s LinkedIn profile describes himself as engineering director with teams in San Francisco and Beijing.

He did not respond to a request from Skift for comment.

“The extraordinary ranking was widely circulated by him within the company’s China business unit and triggered unbearable mental pressures on the female employees who were listed in the ranking,” the letter stated. “More importantly, some senior-level employees (even some local leadership team members) of the China business unit also proactively were involved in the toxic discussions and made  no action against the appalling behaviors.”

Asked about the complaint Friday, Airbnb stated: “Immediately upon receiving a complaint, we opened an investigation into this matter and we will take appropriate action. Harassment and discrimination are incompatible with our values and are not tolerated.”

The Chinese women addressed the complaint letter to Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky, Nate Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia; Vice President of Employee Experience Beth Axelrod; Chief Legal Officer Rich Baer; Global Policy Vice President Chris Lehane, and Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh.

Axelrod responded privately to the letter writers: “Thank you for your email. We take such concerns very seriously. Your Employee Relations (ER) team will be looking into the issues you have raised. Please do not hesitate to raise any additional concerns with me or our ER team. Thank you, Beth.”

Shi is believed to wield a lot of power in Airbnb China. The letter writers say they fear retribution.

Shi’s purported sexist scorecard, according to one of the letter writers, wasn’t written, but he allegedly readily discussed it in informal business meetings at the company and in other settings. The letter said the scorecard was “widely circulated” among Airbnb employees.

The letter also accuses Shi of other sexist comments and questionable conduct.

The letter writers said they have “completely” lost confidence that Chinese leadership in Airbnb would address the issue. “With all due respect, the China business unit has a track record of prohibiting freedom of speech within the company and ‘localizing’ core values,” the letter stated.

The citation of localized core values in the letter is believed to be an effort in Airbnb China to establish a top-down, hierarchical structure with diminished input from lower- rung employees. That would follow the prevalent model of other tech companies in China such as Alibaba, according to one of the letter writers.

The letter referenced Hong Ge, the former Airbnb head of China, who resigned from the company in October 2017 after just four months in the role, allegedly because of an inappropriate relationship with a female employee. He left a “legacy of misconduct” in the Airbnb China business unit, the letter alleged.

The women who wrote the letter urged Airbnb management to immediately initiate an investigation of Shi’s alleged actions, but also of “systemic problems within the company (especially in the China business unit),” and to disclose the results to employees in a transparent way.

The letter writers said they reserved the right to initiate legal proceedings in China and the United States “for the sake of justice.” Airbnb should honor its diversity and inclusion commitment, the women said in the letter.

Shi’s LinkedIn profile says he’s been with Airbnb for six years, founded the engineering team in China in 2014, and heads engineering teams based in Beijing and China.”We build technologies and products to help Airbnb succeed in China,” his profile said.

The Letter From ‘Your Angry Employees in China’

Download (PDF, 68KB)

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