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In the big, wide world of global companies, it’s crucial you have the power to send out your top talent to get the job done wherever it’s needed most. Many employees also see international postings as central to their career development.

Supporting and encouraging all staff demographics to take advantage of these opportunities increases job satisfaction and talent engagement. Employees who don’t feel supported in this way may seek opportunities elsewhere.

However, different employee demographics – including women, LGBTQ+ groups, and those with disabilities can face additional challenges when working globally.

In this article, I highlight some of these challenges, offering a step-by-step roadmap to protect and support diverse business travel groups while prioritizing the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) for employees.

#1 First steps

To embrace the concept of EDI, it’s essential to understand its meaning and the significance it holds within our workplaces.

While there’s a wealth of literature covering this subject, let’s break it down succinctly:

  • Equality in the workplace signifies providing equal opportunities and ensuring fairness for all employees and job applicants.
  • Diversity encompasses the broad spectrum of individuals in a workplace, and it involves not only recognizing but also appreciating and valuing these differences.
  • Inclusion entails fostering an inclusive workforce where every individual feels valued and welcomed in their professional environment.

EDI is essential when it comes to business travel because we want to know all employees are treated fairly and have the same opportunities as everyone else. However, this comes with a responsibility to offer support and keep staff safe during assignments.

Unfortunately, there are still more risks associated with certain demographics than others when it comes to travel.

Considering these complexities, it’s vital to have an accessible company travel policy, which contains both the essential safety information for diverse travel groups, and which meets EDI requirements.

ISO 31030 documentation is essential here, as it provides a framework for organizations to develop, implement, and continually improve their travel risk management processes. According to its travel risk management guidelines, employers must prepare travelers for travel through practical training and education.

“[…] Attention needs to be given to the traveler’s profile in relation to destinations because factors such as race, competencies, nationality, cultural identity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, occupation, position, disability, or medical history can all affect the risks associated with the travel […]

In short, your company has a duty of care to effectively communicate to all employees the necessary responsibilities, which help them to comply with relevant international laws and regulations.

#2 Cultural intelligence & doing business

Many companies talk about being global companies that are locally relevant. Of course, we travel for business to build better relationships and gain access to other markets; this means that to leverage international scale, we must use cultural intelligence so our strategies are locally relevant in each individual market.

To ensure business success and the safety of different employee demographics, we must tailor our travel risk management approach to the unique needs of our company. This means profiling the traveler before they go on an international workplace assignment and the destination and checking whether the area is medium-high-risk for that individual.

Global employers must collect information on potential legal factors for all assignment locations. The best organizations track legal developments and keep information up to date.

For example, in more than half the world, LGBTQ+ people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law. Very few jurisdictions legally recognize the gender identity of trans people, and sexual acts between people of the same sex are criminalized in more than 70 countries. Only a tiny minority of states recognize same-sex partnerships.

Even incorrect workplace attire can cause significant offense to other cultures. For example, in India and China, women are expected to wear knee-length skirts and avoid low necklines. In France, it is forbidden to wear niqabs and burqas, and in Sudan, women are not allowed to wear trousers.

Once important cultural and legal distinctions have been made, businesses must confirm that employees understand the nuances of what’s expected of them.

Working with a travel management company here, is ideal, as they collect and remain current with legal and non-legal country information and can help your business develop risk management plans before employee travel.

They can also provide employee training, which informs employers and employees about specific locations. It outlines the legal, socio-cultural, and workplace situation for different groups in the specified country.

For example, companies like Maiden Voyage provide in-person training workshops to support diverse business travel groups, including women, disabled travelers, and LGBTQ+ business travelers in other companies.

Providing training like this means all businesses have appropriate support and accurate information about assignment destinations to their employees before travel.

We believe it’s essential to build a spirit of community across travel management companies so all individuals are kept safe when traveling. The more we do this, the less likely it is for incidents to happen abroad, and we see that as most important.

#3 Safety on arrival

Once employees have reached their destinations, attention to the safety of their surroundings is essential.

Ensure your travel policy makes it clear what is expected of them in terms of increasing their safety while abroad. For example, you might want to highlight the expectation that employees should take taxis late in the evening instead of walking alone in the dark.

One of the main benefits of using a travel management company to support your business can be particularly helpful, as they provide 24/7 emergency assistance to your employees if they run into difficulties once they arrive at their location.

There is also safety advice needed when working abroad, to keep staff safe, while not on work premises or if they are extending their trip for ‘bleisure’.

For example, staff could be encouraged only to use licensed taxis and to take copies of their passport, fronts and backs of their credit, debit, and prepaid ATM cards, and other travel documents. Keeping copies in their luggage and one in their jacket means if any document gets stolen, they can take the copy to your local embassy.

Stories about poor hotel safety have been rife this year, with examples including Former X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan revealing she was raped by a hotel porter while competing on the ITV talent show in 2012.

Now, more than ever, hotels must be checked to ensure they meet the safety requirements of all employees. For example, hotels that prioritize guest safety know that when someone is checking in, they should be handed their room details discreetly and that the hotel reception shouldn’t say their room number out loud, so details can be overhead.

Employees should be informed that if this does happen, they have the right to request a different room from the hotel.

Where possible, vulnerable or solo female travelers should not be checked into rooms on the ground floor or at the end of a corridor. Double locking, hotel door entry systems, which only allow guests to enter, and available on-site parking are all other important safety features to be considered.

Safeguarding employees during international travel is an imperative duty for any responsible organization. The potential risks and challenges associated with overseas journeys are multifaceted. It’s vital to implement a robust travel safety policy, provide comprehensive training, and maintain clear lines of communication.

Additional nuggets of safety advice for ‘out-of-hours’ activities show employees you genuinely care about their health and wellbeing and not only about the company’s bottom line. As well as fulfilling moral and legal obligations, you’re helping to foster a more loyal, productive, and engaged workforce overall.

By Laura Busby, Commercial Director, Good Travel Management.

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