How Yelp is innovating its product — and using its voice — to drive social change
Yelpexec Miriam Warren has helped the company expand its products supporting LGBTQrights.
- The chief diversity officer has also become an outspoken leader on racial justice and abortion.
Over the last year, Yelp put a firm stake in the ground on LGBTQ rights. In May 2021, the tech company unveiled a feature for LGBTQ-owned businesses to identify themselves, making it easier for consumers to find them.
And in March 2022, Miriam Warren, Yelp's chief diversity officer, publicly denounced the anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills in Florida and Texas. For a month, the company also "double matched," or matched and then donated a second time, donations from its 4,400 employees to LGBTQ nonprofits.
Founded in 2004, Yelp operates as a platform for users to connect with and rate local businesses. Its focus on diversity in its products, services, and public comments over the last few years — Warren also publicly supported abortion access in the US, for example — could provide a roadmap for other business leaders, showing how product innovation can make it easier for users to support underrepresented groups in their communities.
In 2018, Yelp added an "Open to All" attribute businesses could self-add to their company profiles. The attribute tells Yelp consumers that serve all customers regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, religion, disability, gender identity, or gender expression. Since the roll out, over 635,000 businesses have added the attribute and taken the "Open to All" pledge, a promise to serve all customers with respect regardless of differences.
"When you look at who the economy really works for and who it doesn't, it becomes all the more obvious that there are companies who can influence this, who can drive traffic to women-owned businesses, to Asian-owned businesses and so on," Warren said. "These companies really should do that because that's what consumers are looking for."
Figure out what your community cares about
From employee surveys and conversations in employee resource groups, Yelp knew that
In 2017, Yelp joined 52 other companies in signing an amicus brief supporting 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was barred from using the men's bathroom at a Virginia high school. In 2021, the school district agreed to settle the case and will pay Grimm $1.3 million. Also in 2017, Yelp began working with businesses to identify gender neutral bathrooms for consumers and the company made its bathrooms at its San Francisco headquarters gender neutral.
"People who are affected by anti-trans laws are primarily young people. These people represent our friends, our colleagues, our consumers, people who pay for advertising on Yelp," said Warren. "It's a really big reason why we have to take a stand on this issue and many others."
Warren, who's been at Yelp since 2007, added that the trend of speaking out on issues important to stakeholders is here to stay.
"This is something that you're not going to see going away, especially for a younger demographic of consumers who are consistently looking at the values that companies and businesses hold," she added.
Make small changes and build on success
In the weeks following George Floyd's murder in May 2020, Yelp saw searches for Black-owned businesses skyrocket on its platform.
So that June, the company added a feature where Black-owned businesses could self-identify so that consumers could more easily find them. In addition, Yelp launched a campaign to drive more business with Black-owned businesses. The company also announced it would match employee donations to nonprofits that support racial justice.
"People really want to vote with their dollars," Warren said.
Also in 2020, the technology company announced it was going to move $10 million of its own cash into Black-owned financial institutions that specialize in lending to historically marginalized communities.
"I am particularly excited about Yelp continuing to double down on a lot of the things that we have already done," she said, "There's still a lot more work for us to do partnering with these communities, getting deeper relationships with these businesses, and really lifting them up in a lot of different ways."
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