Belinda Johnson, the New COO of Airbnb, Is Ready To Be The Next Great Female Figurehead in …

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I meet Belinda Johnson, Airbnb’s new COO, at their San Francisco headquarters, in a room called “Helsinki.” It’s modeled after a popular Finnish listing, except in this one, among all the manufactured hygge, there’s a large round table, several chairs, and yellow legal pads. Johnson is wearing her hair down in loose waves, an important detail not for aesthetic reasons, but because it helps me gauge her mood—“When I pull my hair back in a ponytail, that’s how you know I’m having a hard day,” she told Wired in 2017. No ponytail barometer necessary: Today was bound to be a good day for Belinda Johnson. After a complicated couple of years—in 2015, a Harvard study found that black users faced “widespread discrimination” from renters; last summer, a female guest sued the platform after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by her verified host—Airbnb just announced a ambitious new road map that aims to get the company one billion annual users by 2028.

Johnson became COO just over three weeks ago, a promotion made all the more intriguing by the fact that until that point, the position of Airbnb COO did not yet exist. After a staffing shake-up that saw the departure of CFO Laurence Tosi, CEO Brian Chesky picked Johnson, then the company’s chief business affairs and legal officer, for the newly minted role. If she’s sweating all the new responsibility, she’s not showing it: “It’s amazing. It’s been so much fun. I am very excited to take this on,” she tells Vogue.

Speaking animatedly, peppering her speech with Silicon Valley euphemisms like “fuel innovation,” and “foster hyper-growth,” Johnson gestures at plans to rapidly scale Airbnb without losing its “scrappy, start-up culture,” part of a vision that includes “how platforms like Airbnb will continue to take leadership roles in society and in business, to do more than what is expected of us.” She knows of what she speaks: Johnson has been compared to Sheryl Sandberg, and it’s true that, like Sandberg, she’s known as the cool, calm, presence behind a high-profile CEO (“We’ve always had a great partnership. We approach things a little bit differently and we build on each other’s ideas,” Johnson says of Chesky). She also earns that comparison because Sandberg is one of the few names on the Post-it note-size list of female chief executives in Silicon Valley—they’re compared because, well, there’s no one else to compare them to.

Johnson is aware of the responsibility of being one of the few female heads in tech. So that’s why at Airbnb, she’s set on confronting sexist conduct while promoting more mentoring and feedback cycles. “It’s about having the hard conversations, and calling out behaviors,” she says. “As the COO of a big company, it’s important to me, but it’s also important to me as a mom of two daughters.” (Though, for the record, “From what I can tell so far, [my daughters] are going to be even less tolerant of bad behavior.”) “Before I know it, they are going to be entering the job market,” says Johnson, “and I want to make sure they are treated with dignity and respect. We have the opportunity for that path.”

The path forward for Airbnb is lined with women. The majority of its hosts—55 percent—are female, and since 2008, they’ve generated over $10 billion in income. Around 41 percent of its employees are women, more than other tech firms like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. When you get to the executive level, that number drops to just below 30 percent. As for her 10-year road map for the company—bumpy history included—Johnson gives me the party line: “It’s going to be Airbnb for everyone.” And, while Silicon Valley is sometimes known for its outlandish visions, one thing’s for certain: Having more women steering the ship is one big step in the right direction.

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