Gender-specific Travel Policies

Issue 24

Sexist and unnecessary, or pragmatic and essential? By Anne Bromley - Joint Managing Director Travel BureauThe very idea that female travellers might require more safeguards than men as they traverse the world closing international trade deals might cause an outpouring of fury from some.Sadly, however women are more susceptible to certain risks when travelling, especially alone and in a foreign country.

Isn’t it right then that we should be considering the wellbeing of our female workforce as part of our business travel policies?

Women travelling for business are more vulnerable, not because they are less capable, or less skilled, but because of the perception that they are physically less able to defend themselves. If you were a pickpocket, would you choose a 6-foot broad-shouldered male as your next victim, or a petite lady? It’s not rocket science, and neither is it misogynistic to point it out.

When it comes to health, there are some specific risks associated with overseas travel such as the Zika virus, which only affects female travellers, particularly those pregnant or considering starting a family.

The question then is; do we need policies tailored to gender? Or should we have an overarching travel policy, which seeks to provide maximum safeguards for all our employees? It’s a huge topic companies need to address. Travel policies exist so businesses can deliver value, security, efficiency and equality of service. It’s obvious then that we should seek to ensure that such policies, applied universally, deliver the best outcomes for employers and employees alike.

Some issues arising from business travel do affect certain groups more than others. Petty, non-violent, crime, is the most commonly occurring risk with young, elderly and female travellers at greatest risk because they’re “easy prey”. The other two most common risks for business travellers, road traffic accidents and food poisoning, are universal, and can strike any traveller at any time; they are not specific to gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity.

By and large, here in the UK, women are treated equally and with respect, readily accepted in a business world historically dominated by men. But in some parts of the world, this is not yet the case, so travelling overseas can lead to greater risks including gender-specific cultural, religious and social differences. These cultural differences also cross over to members of the LGBT community, which should also be borne in mind. Researching local customs and cultural difference in advance to ensure all travellers arrive suitably informed, attired and equipped to avoid causing offence is key to any travel policy.

Other considerations, on arrival, might be less relevant to all travellers, but it doesn’t hurt to ensure that everyone bears them in mind. Avoiding public transport, especially after dark and not walking alone, particularly in an unfamiliar city, although most relevant to vulnerable travellers, is good practice for all. Researching events due to take place which may present a challenge, impacting not only on a traveller’s ability to follow their schedule but, ultimately affect their productivity and success, is also a good idea.

Not everybody feels equally confident and happy as a solo traveller. Travel policies should reflect this and offer a degree of flexibility to meet the needs of individual travellers. We don’t all feel comfortable dining alone in a restaurant, so ensure that hotels offer an in-room dining service, or perhaps the opportunity to dine with other solo travellers in a similar situation. Others may have concerns about using local transport links, so proximity to final destination is an important consideration.

These simple straightforward approaches can make the world of difference to a traveller especially one who feels vulnerable, whatever their gender, physicality, ethnicity, sexuality or age. Implementing the right policy for your business will impact on recruiting, retention, willingness to travel and trip outcomes. There is a clear link between the traveller experience, productivity and, ultimately, business growth. When drafting or updating your policy, consider the needs of all stakeholders, involve a panel to include a diverse group of your workforce and solicit their opinion. When recruiting the best in the marketplace, your travel policy could be what stands you out from your competitors!

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