It’s time for employers to acknowledge that employees face vastly different threats to their personal safety while traveling for work, depending on sexual orientation, gender, and age. More needs to be done to support them as they travel the globe on behalf of their companies.
According to new research commissioned by SAP Concur on the experiences of business travelers, personal safety is clearly the biggest stress-point. Overall, nearly 60 percent of travelers reported having changed their plans because they felt unsafe, and 52 percent cited traveler safety as the most valuable training their company should provide.
But what really stands out are the experiences of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. A shocking 95 percent of LGBTQ+ travelers say they have hidden their sexual orientation while on a business trip. The most common reason they give is to protect their safety. Eighty-five percent have changed their travel arrangements as a result, compared to just 53 percent of their non-LGBTQ+ colleagues.
I’ve flown over 79,000 miles and visited 25 cities in seven countries — this year alone. Even as a frequent traveler, I found the survey responses provided by female travelers upsetting, but unfortunately, not surprising. More than 77 percent say they have experienced some sort of harassment or mistreatment while traveling. Forty-two percent say they have been asked if they’re traveling with their husband. Nearly 40 percent say they have been ignored by service workers, and just under one-third have been catcalled on the job. Distressingly, younger business travelers appear to receive even worse treatment. Across the board, Generation Z women report higher instances of this kind of negative treatment.
I’ve had personal experiences in this area. In 2007, when I was on a business trip for an event in Orlando, I had just returned to my hotel’s lobby after a business dinner. Upon getting into an elevator, a colleague quickly shuffled in after another person, whom I assumed was another guest. That colleague exited the elevator with me, explaining, “You didn’t realize it, but I was walking almost a block behind you and noticed a troubled-looking man clearly following you. He pursued you right into the hotel and into the elevator, and so I ran here to walk you to your room.” I was grateful that a colleague was looking out for me.
As the leader of a team of hundreds of marketing professionals located across the globe, who come from all walks of life, my concern for their safety is one of the things that worries me most. But I have to admit, even with years of experience as a business traveler, and as the manager of large and diverse teams, I wasn’t fully aware of the scope of unequal experiences that LGBTQ+ people have on the road until I read our survey results. I count myself among those who need to do more to help them feel safe.
I am also concerned by gaps in the assistance employees receive from their organizations to make their time away from home, family, and friends easier. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to our survey believe their company lags when it comes to adopting the latest technologies to make business travel easier. In fact, an overwhelming majority of business travelers (94 percent) are willing to share personal information to improve their business travel experience — an impressive number in an age of legitimate data privacy concerns. Our survey also uncovered other concerns that business travelers have beyond personal safety, and I encourage you to read the full report, but I want to focus here on personal safety.
The bottom line is employers need to do more. I encourage executives, people managers, and corporate travel managers to read our report and think about how they can better support their employees who are on the road. There are a variety of resources, products, and services available that can help employers keep track of, and provide services to, employees while they travel:
- Audit travel policies to ensure that company guidance is effective, inclusive, and prepares all employees – regardless of sexual preference, age, or identity – for any type of situation they might encounter while traveling on behalf of their organization. For example, workplaces should provide guidance on how their transgender employees can navigate airport security and obtain a passport. Last fall, I wrote about, and SAP Concur produced an e-book on, how women can stay safer on the road. These tips need to be readily available in every corporate travel program.
- Help employees understand — in advance — the safety of the location in which they might book a hotel. TripIt Neighborhood Safety Scores provide granular detail into the neighborhood safety details. The U.S. Department of State also provides automatic advisories that can aid companies in alerting travelers of potential threats to international business trips.
- Quickly establish two-way communication using travel risk management solutions that allow organizations to quickly outreach to deploy support and services in the event of an emergency. As an example, Uber’s emergency button connects business travelers with 911 and automatically populates the driver’s car make and model, license plate, and GPS location.
- Train employees to proactively protect themselves while they plan and engage in business travel. I also encourage employers to check out guidance for assisting their LGBTQ+ travelers, such as that provided by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Human Rights Campaign.
Whether your teams travel across the country or around the world, they work hard to represent your interests. The time is now to let your employees know — especially those who face discrimination while traveling — that you have their back.
Kim Albrecht is chief marketing officer of SAP Concur.