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Ladies First: Keeping Female Business Travelers Safe

The numbers are clear. Women worry more about safety while traveling than men do. And for good reasons. If your corporate travel program isn’t directly addressing this issue, it should be. After all, women now make up almost half of the traveling business population.

If you are a woman, these stats are hardly newsworthy. You live them every time you hit the road on business -- or for personal travel, for that matter. It’s distracting, to say the least. That’s why female travel safety should be a top priority for corporate travel managers, EAs, HR and others responsible for booking and monitoring travel.

Not taking overt steps to allay fears and mitigate potential problems amounts to dereliction of duty when it comes to duty of care. Yet the vast majority of women say their company does nothing to help them function more safely while traveling for work. They are left to fend for themselves.

What’s the Problem?

Woman who travel for business have many concerns, chief among them:

  • Purse snatching and pickpockets
  • Credit card fraud
  • Identify theft
  • Sexual harassment and assault
  • Personal assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Emergencies (medical, evacuations, etc.)

They worry about taxi scams -- Uber and Lyft may have transformed ground transportation, but while more than 80% of women feel comfortable renting a car, barely over half feel equally comfortable about ridesharing. Likewise, women wonder about the security of non-traditional and shared housing. And many say certain cities and countries are especially worrisome.

Security Magazine notes that seemingly “lesser” threats like purse snatching can have more severe consequences if the incident escalates into violence. Reducing risk of one reduces risk of something worse.

When Female Travelers Worry, Everyone Loses

It’s like distracted driving. If you’re worried about your safety in some way, you cannot devote all the mental and emotional resources you need toward creating top-notch business trip results. Worry takes a psychological and emotional toll on people. It can lead to fatigue and indifference. None of this is good news for companies that rely on travel and traveler productivity to conduct their business.

In fact, 80% of female travelers say their productivity has been compromised to some extent due to safety worries. So how do they respond? They:

  • Book only daylight travel and centrally-located hotels
  • Limit personal-time activity choices
  • Limit where they are willing to go on business, or how often they’re willing to travel

Every time a woman cuts back on the scope of her business trip, she and your company both miss out. Whether she skips the social networking events or skips the entire client meeting or conference, opportunities are lost. That’s pretty costly, especially for small and mid-size organizations that need to fire on all cylinders at all times – with confidence -- in order to innovate and grow.

Most women believe their company cares about them, but they say their employer is falling down on the job when it comes to helping them mitigate travel risks. Nearly 70% want their company to create specific policies to help with this. Surely protecting employee safety and security on the road is as important as protecting the bottom line by focusing on controlling T&E spending.

Yet barely over one-quarter of corporate travel risk programs incorporate female-specific travel tools and information. (And, in some surveys, women say the percentage is even smaller.)

Clearly, there is room for improvement.

Taking Action to Empower Female Travelers

Risk & Insurance reminds employers that they need to consider potential corporate liability as well as productivity when managing their travel program. Risks can be especially high for SMBs, because while they have fewer people traveling than large organizations, the travelers are often concentrated among top leadership.

Regardless who is traveling, however, AIG notes that “women might face different, if not greater, risks while traveling for business. Travel managers and travel programs should be aware of the risks that female travelers might frequently be facing on the road, and make efforts to address and mitigate these risks.”

Start by consulting your own female travelers. General statistics can guide you, but your policies, training, and tips have to reflect your company’s reality, especially your own travelers’ most pressing concerns.

Formalize on-the-road safety and security training

Traveler education builds awareness of potential risks, which is good. What’s better is teaching employees how to avoid problems in the first place and what to do if they feel uncomfortable or do have a problem while away. Equipping them with actionable tips and tools boosts confidence and peace of mind. Empowerment and giving people the skills to stay safe reduces potential risks to your company as well as your people. So training makes simple economic sense as well.

As important as it is to address issues of special concern to female travelers, keep in mind that many of these are not gender-exclusive. Traveler education that includes men as well as women will improve everyone’s travel experience in the most personal and powerful way.

Communication is critical, so ask travelers to stay in touch with the office as well as family or friends back home, even if it’s just a brief email or text to check in. And make sure they know your itinerary. And since safety trumps cheapest when it comes to booking, make sure they stay at trusted hotels in acceptable neighborhoods (preferably close to business meetings, etc.).

AIG offers several resources for female travelers on topics including crime, accommodations, transportation, staying healthy, sightseeing, and cybersecurity.

Security experts note that duty of care also includes “duty to warn.” If employees are headed to a city or country that poses extra concern, hold a pre-travel briefing (and not only for women). Go over which areas to avoid, safest local modes of transportation, where to find medical or other help (or the Embassy), etc.

Anyone who is headed overseas can sign up with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, on a trip-by-trip basis or as a frequent overseas traveler. The program provides pertinent alerts based on your stated itinerary and ensures you have a ready link with the local US Embassy should you need assistance.

Arm travelers with technology that facilitates safety

Training imparts knowledge and practical advice travelers can use to protect themselves. But it takes more than education to fulfill your duty of care. Comprehensive, mobile-friendly travel management technology such as Lola.com puts a tangible asset into the hands of every employee on the move. And it’s a real asset to travel managers and the accounting team back home, too.

Lola is there for your entire travel program. Every trip, from planning and booking to expense submissions, with built-in company guidelines and safety parameters. Round-the-clock live support that has your traveler’s back whether they need help with a safety issue or they need help with a Plan B when their flight is cancelled or their hotel room turns out to be an unexpected dud. Plus back-end data capture that allows you to keep refining travel policies as well as T&E forecasting.

That protects your budget and future business planning as well as your people. Now, that’s one heck of a safety net.

How does your corporate travel policy stack up?

Posted by

Jeanne Hopkins
better corporate travel starts here.

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