Are You Doing Enough to Keep Your Female Business Travelers Safe?
A recent survey of 500 female business travelers by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and AIG found that an overwhelming 80 percent of women said that “in the past year safety concerns have impacted their productivity on business trips.”
Smita Bhargava, senior vice president with Clements Worldwide and a global business traveler herself, stated plainly: “Safety and security are genuine necessities for any organization sending employees on the road. Yes, it is a matter of productivity, but there is also employer liability. There are a host of reasons travel risk management is essential.”
Roughly half of business travelers worldwide are now women, according to insurers and risk managers in the sector. While that parity shows social and corporate progress, it also alters and expands the obligations for the companies sending female employees on the road.
Finding Where to Mitigate Travel Risk
Overcoming misperceptions is one of the first steps in keeping those female travelers safer. For example, the survey asked “how do female travelers mitigate risk while on the road?” And the top three answers were: regularly communicate with office, family, and friends; only stay at trusted accommodations; and share their itinerary with family or friends.
Only one of those responses, staying at trusted hotels, is mitigation.
“Checking in, and having others know your itinerary is not mitigation,” said Bhargava.
“We advise pre-deployment briefings. And not just to known danger spots. That could be for anywhere in the U.S. or the UK even. If someone is not a regular traveler or has never been to those places before, even those could be a risk.”
She explained that beyond the list of meetings and locations, travel options should be reviewed. What modes of transport are available and which are safest? Where are the closest medical facilities? What medications can be brought into the country? If the traveler is driving, what should be done if there is a crash?
“As a female traveler, even when I go to known places, I am careful to be with trusted people,” said Bhargava, who recently returned from Nigeria.
“It’s often the little things that matter. Like always carrying a scarf so you can blend in. Sometimes it is better to hire a car for the day rather than take multiple cabs. Where is it safe to go shopping?”
Teaching About Danger When Traveling
Just as the risk is asymmetrical for women, it is also for smaller companies, noted Bruce McIndoe, founder and president of WorldAware (formerly iJet International). He is also a former co-chair and still a member of the standing committee on risk at GBTA.
“Big corporations may have thousands of people traveling,” said McIndoe, “but they also have many thousands more in their offices. The highest concentration of risk is on small and even mid-size companies that may have only a few top people, and those are the ones doing the travel. Those are also the companies that tend to have the least engagement.”
Some countries have a legal duty of care, McIndoe added. The U.S. does not, but “this generally falls under occupational health and safety requirements as a duty to warn.
“If a company sends a worker onto the factory floor with machinery that is potentially dangerous, it has a legal obligation to provide that worker with personal protection equipment and also give that worker safety training. The same applies to a company sending an employee on a trip.”
The two technical questions are if the company has met the standard of care in the industry and if it has not created a commercial advantage by not spending on safety. If not, the company may be liable for three-times negligence damages.
“Training is the key,” said McIndoe. “If you invest in training to ensure your people make good decisions, then you don’t have to deal with the aftermath of poor decisions.”
Skipping the Group Functions
Sometimes the decision is not to travel at all. “We have seen that consistently,” said Erika Weisbrod, director of security solutions for International SOS and Control Risk. “If the trip does happen, productivity means not just getting to meetings in a timely and safe manner, but also the ability to go out to social activities that are such a big part of business travel. We see women opting out of those situations.”
The risk exposure while traveling is really 24 hours, Weisbrod explained. “Is the traveler secure in her hotel? Does she feel safe and is she sleeping well so she will be well rested and productive?”
Weisbrod underscores the importance of true risk mitigation beyond basic communication.
“Most of that happens prior to departure. The traveler has to understand the risks of the destination. She has to know the cultural norms and how to maintain a low profile. She has to know modes of transport and [the vicinity]. Not all travelers are exposed to the same risk. Gender is a major factor. But so are familiarity with the area, nationality and sexual orientation.”
Sexual assault is the leading risk for female travelers, Weisbrod added, “but in some countries they can be arrested for making a complaint. It is essential that she know where and how to report an incident, where to get medical attention and how to get evacuated if necessary.”
All sources stress true mitigation, with the collaboration of the employer and whatever travel risk management firm it retains. And none of the risks should preclude travel.
“There are great business opportunities for female professionals partaking in international travel,” said Weisbrod. &
Representatives of AIG and the GBTA did not respond when asked to comment.