Do corporate travel policies need to address female safety?

Risks on the road: are you keeping your female employees safe?

Sexual harassment, assault and even kidnapping. Those are not things you would expect to confront while doing your job. But they were among top safety concerns for women businesses travellers in a recent survey.

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) research concluded that female business travellers face greater personal safety risks on the road, but that few corporate travel policies take such threats into account.

But should a company’s travel policies address female safety in particular? Is it different to keeping your employees safe generally?

“While female business travellers generally feel safe when travelling on business, there is an increased likelihood of sexual harassment, assault and theft of personal items, along with medical complications such as menopause and pregnancy,” says Kathy Lewis, consultancy director at Executive Travel Vitality. She adds: “Any corporate policy which doesn’t explicitly consider these conditions is negligent in their duty of care responsibilities.”

On the flipside, Kathy says companies that do have procedures to reduce the risk of gender-specific travel provide a more inclusive environment for their employees. This helps improve their corporate reputation and engage and retain staff, who benefit from better long-term wellbeing.

Seek feedback and train staff

As well as tailoring their travel policies, there are other small steps companies can take to protect female employees travelling for business.

Getting feedback from travellers for example. Companies don’t often actually do this, says Carolyn Pearson, CEO of Maiden Voyage, a specialist in female business travel solutions. If they did gather feedback, about a problem encountered in a particular hotel for example, then it could be taken off their list of preferred travel suppliers.

Also, companies can seek training on cultural and legal restrictions facing female business travellers – for both their staff as well as whoever is in charge of their travel policy. Enterprise Hire Car, for example, has put all of its staff - men and female - through such training, Carolyn says.

A growing issue

Companies are increasingly realising that they should do more to protect female business travellers, Carolyn says: “Because more women are reaching more senior positions, they’re travelling more. And employers have to do more to keep hold of that top talent. We’re seeing a lot more companies coming to us for advice - from banks to universities, to Silicon Valley tech giants to football clubs to oil and gas companies.”

Many companies want to do more but aren’t making it happen. Carolyn says: “We ran a poll a few weeks ago and up to 96% of employers think they should do something gender specific, but only 38% of them actually are. So there’s a gap as employers don’t know how to get started. They don’t know who should own it in organisation. So find a person who’s going to own this and get cracking. Complacency is not going to help.”

Not just women

Women aren’t the only vulnerable business travellers. Dr Sophie Harwood, director and women travellers' advisor at beTravelwise, says: “Other factors such as race, religion, or sexual-orientation may also play a role in determining an individual's personal risk profile and change the experience they have of travelling compared to other colleagues.”

This means that companies can’t afford to take a blanket approach to keeping staff safe.

She says: “HR departments should acknowledge and promote awareness that there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to security and safety when it comes to travel due to the variations in personal-risk profiles; any policies will always need to acknowledge the limitations of general guidance and encourage travellers to be aware of what their own personal-risk profile looks like and make it clear that they can ask for additional resources if required in order to support their individual requirements and mitigate the particular risks that they may face.”

Looking for more business travel tips? Check out the Travelling for Business section of our blog.

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