Supporting connection and belonging research at the University of Virginia

Airbnb today announced new plans to donate a total of $1 million over the next five years to establish the Airbnb Melissa Christian Thomas Hunt Research Fund for Global Connection and Belonging at University of Virginia Darden School of Business. 

The fund will provide support for academic research in the area of connection and belonging and be led by Dr. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, who will be departing her full time role as Airbnb’s Head of Global Diversity and Belonging to take a new position as an Airbnb Senior Advisor. Dr. Thomas-Hunt will also join the faculties of the University of Virginia Darden School and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Airbnb is a community based on connection and belonging, and the fund is part of our ongoing efforts to invest in our community and develop more expertise on these topics.

In an email to the Airbnb team, Dr. Thomas-Hunt said:

I’m writing to let you know that I have made the difficult decision to transition from my full-time role leading Global Diversity and Belonging. I will continue to advise the company on a range of topics and I am particularly excited that I will become a Senior Advisor for Connection and Belonging at Airbnb. In this new capacity, I will help drive Airbnb’s research on Connection and Belonging. I will continue to serve on the Board of Directors and I am also joining the faculties of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Over the next few months, I will fully transition into the Senior Advisor role and begin working with Brian on this research. We have an opportunity to establish Airbnb as a pre-eminent source of expertise on connection and belonging, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. As part of this work, I will be leading academic research and publications on connection and belonging, and collaborating with Airbnb’s Anti-discrimination team, as well as with the People Analytics, Trust and Hosting teams on diversity, connection and belonging related research projects.

I am also partnering with Brian and Beth on our search for a new Head of Global Diversity and Belonging. I’ll continue coaching and supporting our Diversity & Belonging and People Analytics teams until the new leader joins, and once we find the right person, I’ll help onboard them.

I am grateful for the support that I have received from Beth and Brian and the Executive Team in making this decision. Leading the Global Diversity and Belonging team has been one of my great joys. I am proud of our work, and the heroic efforts of my team and what we have accomplished together. Together, we have worked to create an ethos of allyship across the company in which individuals are motivated to ask, “Have I checked on my teammate, whose perspective is not represented, how can I lend my voice in support of others, am I actively seeking ways to bring a diverse array of individuals into our organization and onto our platform, and ensure their success.”

To live up to our very bold aspirations and ensure they are lasting, advancing diversity and belonging must become deeply embedded in our fabric. You have all been on this journey with me and I have every confidence that you will pick up the mantle and persist, individually and collectively, in continuing this work in support of one another, our hosts and our guests. Know that I will still be with you, poking and encouraging, just from a slightly different vantage point.

In an email to the Airbnb team, Airbnb Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky said:

The impact MTH has had on Airbnb can be felt in nearly every corner of our company. I’ve personally learned so much from her, and she has helped me become a better leader. But what’s remarkable is the sheer number of people at Airbnb who would probably say the same thing. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of what MTH has done for us over the past two years. 

We aspire to be a leader in diversity and belonging — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s core to who we are. Over these past two years, MTH has challenged and inspired us to set bold goals and deliver real progress. In this time, we’ve redesigned the way we hire, trained managers to better incorporate diversity into their hiring, placed more emphasis on every candidate’s commitment to D&B, and assessed technical talent in a more inclusive way. But these examples just scratch the surface of MTH’s contributions. From Project Lighthouse to our commitment to building products that are more accessible to our guests and Hosts with disabilities, her impact extends far beyond the walls of Airbnb. 

While I’m sad to see her leave her position as an executive at Airbnb, I feel so lucky that she’s staying on as a Senior Advisor to lead Airbnb’s research on connection and belonging. We are a community based on connection and belonging, and we will continue to design new ways to provide for it. But if we are to design for it, we must deeply understand it. This is where research comes in. MTH will lead work that will enable us to better understand the fundamental need for connection and belonging, how it varies for people around the world at different stages in their lives, and what the necessary conditions are to facilitate more of it. At a time of mass isolation, with physical communities eroding all around us, this work is more important than ever. 

In fact, this work is so critical that we have decided to go a step further in our commitment. I am excited to announce that Airbnb is donating a total of $1 million over the course of the next five years to establish the Airbnb Melissa Christian Thomas Hunt Research Fund for Global Connection and Belonging at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. This commitment will ensure that our work together continues for many years to come. 

So this isn’t goodbye, it’s thank you. Thank you, MTH, for all that you’ve given to Airbnb. And thank you for all that you have given to so many of us. I’m grateful that your next chapter at Airbnb is just beginning. There are so many people that will benefit from the work you’re about to do.

“We at the UVA Darden School of Business are incredibly grateful to Airbnb for its gift of a new research fund in Melissa Thomas-Hunt’s honor, which supports our commitment as a global business school to develop responsible leaders inspired by our value for an inclusive community that enables its global and diverse members to collaborate and excel. This new fund will fuel the creation of new ideas that will help organizations and their leaders navigate and shape the world’s business landscape to foster connection and belonging.”

Scott Beardsley, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Dean

Airbnb has begun a search to identify Dr. Thomas-Hunt’s successor.