Airbnb Continues Working Towards Inclusion


Just as Twitter is battling harassment, Airbnb if facing its own demons: hosts who discriminate. A report published in September by Harvard researchers found that, as previously believed, hosts are less likely to accept reservations from guests who are African-American. Hosts are 16% less likely to rent to someone whose name sounds African-American, all else being equal.

In a detailed report, Airbnb outlined policies and practices the company will implement. The Economist highlights two of the changes, referring to the first as the "most visible" and the second as "perhaps the most meaningful": 

  • Everyone signs a "community commitment" statement: "We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity,
    sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias."
  • If a host rejects a reservation, he or she will not be able to book the same nights with another guest. Airbnb also is starting an "Open Doors" program to help people who believe they were discriminated against find another place to stay.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky described these and more changes in an email to users:

Dear Airbnb community,

At the heart of our mission is the idea that people are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong. We don't say this because it sounds nice. It's the goal that everyone at Airbnb works towards every day – because we've all seen how when we live together, we better understand each other.

Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.

In June, we asked Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington D.C. Legislative Office, to review every aspect of the Airbnb platform, and to make sure that we're doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination. Thanks to Laura's leadership, today we're releasing a report that outlines the results of that process. You can read the full report here, but I'd like to highlight four changes that will impact the way our platform works:

Airbnb Community Commitment

Beginning November 1, everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy. We aren't just asking you to check a box associated with a long legal document. We're asking everyone to agree to something we're calling the Airbnb Community Commitment, which says:

We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.

Open Doors

We'll be implementing a new policy called Open Doors. Starting October 1st, if a Guest anywhere in the world feels like they have been discriminated against in violation of our policy – in trying to book a listing, having a booking canceled, or in any other interaction with a host – we will find that Guest a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or if not, we will find them an alternative accommodation elsewhere. This program will also apply retroactively to any Guest who reported discrimination prior to today. All of these Guests will be offered booking assistance for their next trip.

Instant Book

We'll increase the availability of Instant Book, which allows our hosts to offer their homes to be booked immediately without their prior approval of a specific guest. Instant Book makes booking easier for everyone, and our goal is to have 1 million listings bookable via Instant Book by January 1st, 2017.

Anti-bias training

We are working with experts on bias, including Dr. Robert Livingston of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Dr. Peter Glick of Lawrence University, to make anti-bias training available to our community, and will be publicly acknowledging those who complete it.

These steps are just the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to combat bias and discrimination.

While we as a company have been slow on this issue, I am now asking you the community to help us lead the way forward. Every time you make someone else feel like they belong, that person feels accepted and safe to be themselves. While this may sound like a small act of kindness, we are a community of millions of people strong. Imagine what we can do together.

Brian Chesky

CEO, Co-founder

 Sent with ♥ from Airbnb

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Discussion Starters:

  • How well do you think Airbnb's initiatives will solve the problem of discrimination on its site? What else could the company do? Some advised that they remove profiles and use pseudonyms. What do you think?
  • Assess Brian Chesky's email. Describe the components of the writing process he likely followed.

Toshiba Resignations

Toshiba has announced the resignation of the chief executive and seven other board members in the wake of an accounting scandal. An independent report found that the company had overstated earnings by $1.2 billion over seven years. 

In a news conference, Chief Executive Hisao Tanaka said, "I apologize from my heart to all our stakeholders. To clarify management responsibility, I resign my posts as president and member of the board of directors as of today."

Toshiba resignations

In the Japanese culture, it is traditional to bow deeply, particularly when admitting wrongdoing. Tanaka also said, "The responsibility lies in the management, including myself. As a response, I am stepping down from the post as the CEO and president."

The committee that issued the report found "systematic involvement, including by top management, with the goal of intentionally inflating the appearance of net profits." The committee also wrote, "Within Toshiba, there was a corporate culture in which one could not go against the wishes of superiors." 

In a company statement, Toshiba promises changes as a result of the committee's findings, including disclosing the investigation report and correcting past financial statements. 

Image source.

Discussion Starters: 

  • What differences do you see in Toshiba and Toyota's news conferences (in 2010) compared to American companies' public hearings, such as GM's? 
  • How much confidence do you have in Toshiba after hearing this news? What can the company do to rebuild the brand?

Reddit's CEO Change


Reddit has been a spiral of drama in the past few weeks. Wired gives a useful chronology of the CEO changes and other issues. Ellen Pao was hired as interim CEO in November 2014 after Yishan Wong resigned. Pao had been in the news because she was a junior investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and sued the firm for gender discrimination. She lost the suit, which went to trial, in March 2015. 

At Reddit, Pao was criticized for banning several subreddits (topical groups within Reddit). Although Reddit was created as a place for free speech, some of it is hateful. But users felts that Pao overstepped in closing down some sites. More than 200,000 people signed a petition calling for Pao's resignation.

In her resignation post, Pao thanked her supporters but focused on the trolls and hateful comments she had received. She asks people to consider others' humanity and writes, "So why am I leaving? Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining reddit's core principles."

According to Wired,

Reddit is home to some of the most hateful content on the Internet, but at least some of it appears to be here to stay. Reddit [new] CEO Steve Huffman said during an AMA [ask me anything] on the site today that the company would ban communities that "incite harm or violence against an individual or group of people," as well as any subreddit that "harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people."

But he did call out a specific racist subreddit by name-a name so offensive that we won't repeat it here-as an example of the kind of content that would remain, though likely under a new classification-an assurance that brought cheers from the subreddit's members.

Wired also summarizes Pao's resignation:

Some have decried Ellen Pao's resignation from Reddit as a step in the wrong direction for an industry where women leaders are still a distinct minority, but the site's detractors say good riddance. Though Reddit was originally intended as a place where the ideals of free speech and the wisdom of the crowd would reign, often the crowd turned into a mob.

Discussion Starters:

  • People are so divided over Pao's resignation. What's your opinion? Was the decision best for the website? What are the consequences? 
  • How, if at all, does her Kleiner lawsuit factor into your opinion? What if she had won the case?

Facebook Encourages a $15 Wage and Other Benefits

Facebook is taking a stand to increase wages. In a statement, COO Sheryl Sandberg described new standards for companies who want to do business with Facebook. The first paragraph is shown here: FB minimum wage

Sandberg writes that this is "the right thing to do for our business and our community." She also mentions, "We've been working on these changes for some months and had originally planned to announce this last Monday." Monday was May 4; sadly, Sandberg's husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, passed suddenly on May 1. 

Read more.

Discussion Starters: 

  • What's your view of Facebook's position? Why would the company jump into this controversial debate? Consider Sandberg's history. 
  • Is it fair for Facebook to require these standards of its suppliers? What are the potential consequences? Read the entire post, so you know what the company is requiring. 
  • Why did Sandberg mention the company's original date for the announcement? How do you expect people to react to this? 

Welsh Bus Company Rethinks Sexy Ad

Welsh bus adAre people just too sensitive, or did this Welsh bus company cross a line with its ad? The picture of a naked woman with a provocative line was created for a Cardiff, Wales, company promoting its cross-city service.

A representative for the Advertising Standards Agency reported 45 complaints and told Business Insider, "We've received complaints about this ad, but we understand that the advertiser will be taking it down within the next 24 hours and has removed its accompanying tweet in response to the concerns it's received. We'll continue to monitor the situation in case further action is needed."

On Twitter, New Adventure Travel promised to take down the ads: 

In view of the reaction to our bus advertising today we wish to set out our position:

Firstly we have stated that our objectives have been to make catching the bus attractive to the younger generation. We therefore developed an internal advertising campaign featuring males and females to hold boards to promote the cost of our daily tickets.

The slogan of 'ride me all day for £3' whilst being a little tongue in cheek was in no way intended to cause offence to either men or women and, if the advert has done so then we apologise unreservedly. There has certainly been no intention to objectify either men or women.

Given the volume of negativity received we have decided to remove the pictures from the back of the buses within the next twenty four hours.

Discussion Starters: 

  • What's your view? Is this just a catchy ad and people are too sensitive? Or is the ad potentially offensive?
  • What, if any, cultural differences are at play? How do you think this would be received in the United States?
  • How do we decide what "crosses a line"? What criteria do you use to form your opinion? 
  • Did New Adventure Travel do and say the right thing?

Ogilvy Apologizes for Distasteful Ad

Ad agency Ogilvy & Mather has apologized for an offensive ad produced for Kurl-on, an Indian mattress company. What could go wrong when portraying a 14-year-old Taliban shooting victim in a cartoon? 

Kurl-on Ad

The company wanted to show that heroic figures "bounce back," but the ad doesn't quite work. The New York Times describes Malala Yousafzai, featured in the promotion: 

"At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education - she wanted to become a doctor, she said - and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation."

Two other ads in the series aren't much better. Steve Jobs is shown pushed out a door, and Gandhi is thrown from a moving train. 

Before this one hit paid media outlets, online news organizations flagged the image. Although Kurl-on hasn't responded to inquiries, Ogilvy issued this statement: 

"We deeply regret this incident and want to apologize to Malala Yousafzai and her family. We are investigating how our standards were compromised in this case and will take whatever corrective action is necessary."

Discussion Starters: 

  • How do Kurl-on and Ogilvy share responsibility for the ad? How did this happen? 
  • The ad was created in Ogilvy's Indian office and produced in a Chilean studio. How, if at all, do these facts affect your thinking about the ad?

Google Teaches Employees About Unconscious Bias

In talks and videos, Google is teaching its employees about unconscious bias. Puzzled by its lack of employee diversity, the company has identified bias as a possible contributor. SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock is leading the effort based on research from Yale University, which found that, "science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills." 

An employee video asks, "What would the world like like if everybody were aware of the stereotypes that they have and the biases that they have?"

The initiative, further explained on Google's blog, encourages people to take four steps to reduce bias: 

  • Gather facts.
  • Create a structure for making decisions. 
  • Be mindful of subtle cues.
  • Foster awareness. Hold yourself - and your colleagues - accountable. 

Discussion Starters:

  • Watch the video. What messages do you find useful, and which are not? What could improve the video for employees?
  • What's your view of Google's approach? Will it help the company reach its objectives, in part, to increase the number of women in leadership positions?

Tim Cook: "I'm proud to be gay"

CookIn a personal op-ed in Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook comes out. Although people have thought him to be gay, and he has not denied it, Cook states it clearly now:

"While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

Cook describes his difficult decision. He clearly values his privacy but also understands the difference he can make by being openly gay: 

"I don't consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I've benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

Being openly gay in Corporate America-particularly in the executive ranks-is rare, despite that 91% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies. Cook also says, "Countless people, particularly kids, face fear and abuse every day because of their sexual orientation."

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of Tim Cook's decision and how he chose to communicate it?
  • How do you expect employees, shareholders, customers, and others to react?

Walmart Apologizes for "Fat Girl Costumes"

It's great that Walmart offers Halloween costumes for bigger people, but why call them "Fat Girl Costumes"? As you can imagine, people didn't appreciate the label.

Walmart Costumes

Walmart has since changed the heading to "Women's Plus-Size Halloween Costumes." After almost a week of complaints, the company finally apologized:

"This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We are working to remove it as soon as possible and ensure this never happens again."

Discussion Starters:

  • How could a mistake like this happen? Consider the functions of marketing and web design.
  • Assess Walmart's apology. How could it be improved?

Microsoft CEO Regrets Comment About Women and Raises

Don't worry about pay, women, trust that the system will work. That was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's suggestion during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday:

"It's not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don't ask for a raise have, because that's good karma. It'll come back because somebody's going to know that's the kind of person that I want to trust, that's the kind of person that I want to really want to give more responsibility to. And in the long term efficiency, things catch up."

In addition to backlash on social media sites, Nadella's comment caught heat from a New York Times reporter who appropriately reminded us of the research:

"Women are paid less than men, and one reason is that women are less likely to negotiate for raises or promotions. They feel more anxiety about negotiating and are less likely to consider job situations to be negotiable, according to Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a leading researcher on women and pay negotiations."

In an email to employees and in a tweet, Nadella said he regretted his comment.

From: Satya Nadella
Sent: Thursday, October 9, 2014 5:24 PM
To: Microsoft - All Employees (QBDG); Retail: All FTE
Subject: RE: Empowering Others

All - Today I was interviewed on stage by Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Conference - I encourage you to watch the video. It was great to spend time with so many women passionate about technology. I was honored to be a part of it and I left the conference energized and inspired.

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it's deserved, Maria's advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.

I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson. I look forward to speaking with you at our monthly Q&A next week and am happy to answer any question you have.


Nadella tweet
Update: Nadella apologizes again in an email.

Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Nadella's original comment during the interview. Do you agree with him?
  • Now assess his apology. In what ways does this change your thinking about his comment?

Facebook Apologizes to LGBT Community


Facebook has always had a policy preventing aliases, insisting that people use their real names as their profiles. Recently, one user reported several hundred profiles that violated this rule. As a result, Facebook suspended pages of many gay and transgender people. 

After meeting with people affected in San Francisco, Facebook officials understood that drag queens and others use aliases to protect themselves-to stay anonymous to friends, families, and employers.

Product Officer Chief Christopher Cox wrote this apology: 

"I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.

"In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we've had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We've also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.

"The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more - so we didn't notice the pattern. The process we follow has been to ask the flagged accounts to verify they are using real names by submitting some form of ID - gym membership, library card, or piece of mail. We've had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it's done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here.

"Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.

"We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it's the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it's both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.

"All that said, we see through this event that there's lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected. These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that. With this input, we're already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors. And we're taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way. To everyone affected by this, thank you for working through this with us and helping us to improve the safety and authenticity of the Facebook experience for everyone."

Discussion Starters: 

  • What was the rationale for Facebook's real name policy? 
  • Was changing the policy in this case the right decision? 
  • Assess Facebook's apology. What works well in terms of the message, organization, tone, and so on, and what could be improved?

Gap Responds Swiftly to Racist Comments

When Gap heard one of its ads was graffitied with racist comments, the company responded quickly.

Gap created an ad featuring Waris Ahluwalia, an Indian-American designer and actor, and Quentin Jones, a model and filmmaker. Much of the reaction was positive, but not everyone was happy with the portrayal. This version of the ad made the rounds on Twitter:

Gap ad

When Gap learned of the graffitied ad, the company asked for more information, which is appropriate before deciding how to respond. Soon after, Gap changed its Twitter banner to the original image:

Gap response 2

Support for Gap's response traveled throughout Twitter, with people thanking Gap and promising to shop the store for the holidays.

Still, Gap's other ads as part of the "Make Love" campaign are getting mixed reviews. An ad featuring two men was defaced with homophobic comments. That one was ordered removed by the mayor of Chicago.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your assessment of Gap's response? What worked well?
  • I don't see any Gap comments or tweets about the situation. Should the company have done anything else? 

Ryanair CEO "Ruffles Feathers" (Again)

No stranger to controversy, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary angered people during a recent Twitter chat. You may recall that O'Leary called a customer "stupid" and other insults when she complained about being charged €300 for not printing boarding passes ahead of time. Ryanair is a discount airline and charges fees for extra services.

Now, a PR Daily article says O'Leary invited criticism as part of a "PR stunt." Although some tweets were deleted, Skift captured a few choice examples:

Ryanair tweet25

Ryanair tweet

Ryanair tweet2

Discussion Starters:

  • What do you think of Michael O'Leary's approach on Twitter?
  • Take a look at the Google Image search of Michael O'Leary. What's your reaction? Does he overdo the stunts, is he being who he wants to be, or something else?
  • Do you find his tweets and other communications offensive or not?

H&M Didn't Learn the Headdress Lesson from Victoria's Secret

How many more retailers will make this mistake? H&M Canadian customers were offended by hair accessories that imitated Native American headdresses with fake feathers.

H&M Headdress

Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk woman, complained to H&M after seeing the headdress in a Vancouver, B.C., store. She told CTV,

"They're worn by chiefs. They're a sign of honour and respect and leadership. They're not a cute accessory to be worn in a nightclub. It's not something you take lightly and throw on your head and wear to the bar or a concert."

H&M issued this statement:

"We always want to listen to our customers and their feedback, our intention was never to offend anyone or to be insensitive. We chose to remove the headdress inspired accessory from our shelves. This was a limited edition item that was sold in 5 of the 62 locations we operate in Canada."

CTV reports that H&M pulled the headdress after hearing three complaints; however, they have not commented on whether they are removing the accessory from stores in other countries.

Victoria's Secret made a similar mistake recently when the company outfitted a model in Native American-style headdress, leopard-print underwear, turquoise jewelry, and high heels.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of the situation? Did H&M do the right thing, did the customer overreact, or something else?
  • Compare this situation to that of Victoria's Secret. What are the similarities and differences in the use of the headdress and how the companies responded?

Interns: Don't Make Up Fake, Racist Names

Asiana Airlines is suing a television station for mocking its crew on the flight that went down in San Francisco. A summer intern at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) verified the ridiculous Asian names, which made it on the air via KTVU-TV in Oakland, CA.

 Vice president and general manager of the station, Tom Raponi, apologized on air:

"We sincerely regret the error and took immediate action to apologize, both in the newscast where the mistake occurred, as well as on our website and social media sites. Nothing is more important to us than having the highest level of accuracy and integrity, and we are reviewing our procedures to ensure this type of error does not happen again."

KTVU also wrote an apology on its website, accepting full responsibility for not sounding out the names and for not asking the position of the person at NTSB.

The NTSB issued this statement:

NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs

NTSB statement on erroneous confirmation of crew names

July 12

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.

The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crewmembers or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. We work hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released and deeply regret today's incident.

Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.

Office of Public Affairs
490 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
(202) 314-6100
Kelly Nantel

Discussion Starters:

  • Imagine the news-reporting process at the TV station. How could this have happened?
  • The NTSB fired the intern. What, if any, other action should the agency take?

Stereotyping at Target

Target-woodlandEmployees at a Target facility in California have sued the company for discrimination. The employees claim that managers used racial slurs when communicating with them and that racial stereotyping appeared in a document used for training.

In the document, "Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips," the company reminded employees to avoid stereotypes of ethnic groups, such as Hispanics. The trouble is, the document itself portrayed stereotypes:

a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;
b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;
c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;
d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);
e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and
f. They may say 'OK, OK' and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.

According to Target spokesperson Molly Snyder, the document was not used in a formal training program, but she did admit that it was used "during conversations at a company distribution center," according to The Huffington Post

On behalf of the company, Snyder said, "It is never Target's intent to offend our team members or guests, and we apologize."  She also said, "The content of the document referenced is not representative of who Target is. We strive at all times to be a place where our team and guests feel welcome, valued, and respected."

In the complaint, employees accuse their primarily Caucasian managers of using racial slurs when speaking to Hispanic employees. Examples from Courthouse News Service include "Only a 'wetback' can work this hard," "You got to be Mexican to work like this," and "What the hell, I'm already sweating like a Mexican."

This reminds me of another recent story: Tactile Brazilians and Other French Stereotypes.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What was Target's motivation for creating the document? Why did it fail?
  • What could the company have done differently to achieve its objective? Still, what are the risks with the approaches you considered?

Asiana Airlines' Apology and Other Communications

After the Asiana Airlines crash over the weekend that left two dead and many injured, executives are keeping the public informed and are making their apologies. Some of these communications reflect the company's Korean culture.

A Washington Post article describes the board members' "deep, solemn bow" at the end of a news conference in Seoul. Of course, this is an obvious difference in culture from how American executives would behave, but the author explains that the cultural difference is more than just that.

Asiana conf

The article reviews the history of businesses such as Asiana Airlines and the importance of trust:

"Part of it has to do with the way South Korea's economy grew: with a heavy guiding hand from the state. The government helped a number of once-small companies consolidate into massive conglomerates known as chaebols, which are often family-run and have since accumulated tremendous political and economic power.

"In some ways, chaebols are a lot like American multinationals: economic behemoths with heavy influence. But, in part due to the way they grew and the state's role in fostering them as national symbols, perhaps as well as some Confucian cultural influence, they operate in some ways like family businesses. And they're treated as such by many employees and by South Korean consumers. According to a 2005 article on chaebols in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 'Korean consumers have a strong attachment to chaebols with which they associate quality and, in turn, trust,' with the chaebols serving as a kind of extension of Confucian ideals of the family. That means consumer loyalty to the brand but also brand responsibility for the consumer: hence, bowing to ask forgiveness."

The company posted periodic press releases as news about the crash unfolded. 

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • In addition to the obvious word-wrap issues in the press releases, what word choices, tone, or other aspects of the statements might you attribute to cultural differences?
  • Compare this story to the PBS News Hour analyzing cultural communication in the Toyota CEO's news conference in 2010.

Tactile Brazilians and Other French Stereotypes

The French tourism board is trying to help retailers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, and taxi drivers be more welcoming to visitors. But the "Do You Speak Touriste?" website provides stereotypes that some may find offensive. 

Do you speak touriste

According to The Telegraph, the tourism guide (downloadable in French) offers these helpful hints for French business owners (note that the punctuation is European): 

The guide informs Parisians that the British "like to be called by their first name", spend an average of 145 euros (£124) per person per day – more than their American counterparts – and eat breakfast from 7.30-8.30am, lunch at 12-1pm and supper at 6-7pm. 

They seek a mixture of "authenticity and relaxedness", expect smiling and friendly staff" and appreciate "architecture, traditional gastronomy and the need for a playful (approach to culture)."

The Japanese are the biggest spenders – 186 euros per tourist per day – but need constant reassurance and are "discreet but demanding". "They never complain straight away when they are not satisfied but will criticise once back in their own country."

The Chinese have an "idealised and romantic" view of Paris, and come "above all for luxury shopping."

Brazilians, meanwhile are "easily tactile", expect a "totally poetic experience" and spend more than the British, around 166 euros per day.

Parisians are told that cash-strapped Spaniards are on the "lookout for freebies" and expect you to speak their language, while Italians are delighted if you are nice to their children, like "going on excursions" but are "impatient tourists".

Perhaps the trickiest visitors of all, judging by the guide, are the French themselves, described as "particularly demanding" guests who above all "don't want to be considered as tourists".

Jeanerre Blat, general director of the Paris area tourist board, explained the board's philosophy:

"The aim is to fight against the poor reputation for welcome in Paris and the Paris area. You don't welcome a Japanese tourist the same way as an Italian one. There are codes to take into account, so you have to adapt."

Discussion Starters: 

  • What's the value of stereotyping? In other words, what's the value of this guidance for French business owners? 
  • Looking at the examples of nationalities above, are you more offended by some than by others? Which and why? Or do you find none offensive? 
  • Could the tourism board have met its objectives in another way? If so, how?
  • Before The Telegraph paragraph, I wrote that the punctuation is European. Revise it to meet American standards.

MIT Media Lab SXSW Faux Pas

As the rest of us watch the snow fall, participants in the SXSW interactive festival in Austin are enjoying the technology, music, and general coolness of the event.

Festival mainstay MIT Media Labs surprised people with its promotional wristbands that many considered sexist. The bands were given to people who attended an MIT party.

MIT wristbands

In a blog post, the organization published this apology:

"We appreciate all of the feedback we've received about the party we hosted at The Parish Underground on Saturday night at SXSW. While we received a lot of positive responses, we want to address an issue with the wristbands that were given to people who came in the door. They were offensive and in no way reflect the sentiments of the MIT Media Lab. These wristbands were provided by the venue, and while we didn't realize what was printed on them until after they'd been handed out, we should have prevented the situation from occurring in the first place.

"The Media Lab is firmly committed to supporting women in the sciences, computing, arts, and engineering. We don't like – and certainly don't want to support or disseminate – offensive messaging. We appreciate those of you who noticed the wristbands and pointed them out to us; please accept our sincere apology."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your reaction to the wristbands: clever marketing, offensive, or something else? 
  • What's the significance, if any, of MIT Media Labs distributing the wristbands at SXSW?
  • How do you assess the organization's apology?

Hitler Humor Falls Short

As it turns out, Hitler jokes can offend people. French bank BNP used a parody of Hitler from the movie, "Downfall" as a motivational video for employees. Some employees didn't find it funny.

A bank employee created the video, which was originally shown last year at a seminar for 100 international managers in Amsterdam. Apparently, it was uploaded to the company's intranet site for more employees to view.

Similar parodies have been used many times and are popular on the web, such as this example of Hitler's reaction to the iPad. The bank's version shows Hitler as a Deutsche Bank executive angry that competitor BNP is succeeding in the foreign exchange market.


It's possible that employees didn't know the history of the clip. Still, some had strong negative reactions: 

"We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that-make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in."

"We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some  Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all."

Discussion Starters:

  • How would you describe the bank's original intent of using the parody?
  • Why do you think the controversy became public now, rather than after the seminar in Amsterdam last year?
  • What's your view of how some employees reacted?