At some organizations, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is exclusively owned by HR, but travel managers (as well as other stakeholders) should also be advocates.
After all, DE&I is an intrinsic part of the travel experience, helping to enrich travelers’ perspectives and their understanding of other cultures. Plus, as companies increasingly focus on employing more diverse talent, there will be more diverse business travelers with unique needs and preferences that travel managers will need to consider.
With that in mind, here are five questions that can help travel managers implement DE&I initiatives into their travel program.
1. Have you engaged traveling employees to understand their unique perspectives and experiences?
While surveys can be a good first step to learn more about the different types of travelers representing your company, to truly understand their needs and the barriers they may face, it’s better to speak with them directly. Whether conducted in a small group setting or one-on-one, having conversations with travelers who represent a mix of backgrounds can help expose you to views and pain points you had never thought of before.
When identifying which travelers to speak to, don’t only look at it from the lens of race or gender. Age, sexual identity, physical needs, neurodiversity, and family status can all shape a person’s travel experience and what they value in a program.
Of course, you must tread carefully when it comes to an employee’s background, so connect with the HR team about how to broach these sensitive issues. Find out what questions you can and cannot ask to avoid violating privacy rules and unintentionally offending employees.
2. Does your travel policy accommodate the unique needs of your travelers?
As you are likely to discover from traveler surveys and discussions, business travelers have unique needs. Some examples:
A traveler who uses a wheelchair may need extra booking support to make sure the special service request code that notifies the airline that the individual requires mobility assistance gets entered into the Passenger Name Record.
Travelers of different generations tend to have specific booking preferences. A boomer may favor booking a trip by phone through a travel counselor and staying in a hotel where they have loyalty rewards, while a zoomer may want to lodge in a short-term rental and reserve it through an app.
From a safety perspective, a female employee traveling solo may have preferences about a hotel’s location and how she gets there from the airport.
Meanwhile, travelers who have a family may grow resentful if they are required to travel during weekends, while their single counterparts may want to use those extra days to combine business travel with vacation time.
These are the sort of potential considerations you should weigh when assessing whether the travel policies and initiatives in place are meeting your travelers’ needs.
3. How are you protecting traveling employees who may be at higher risk in specific destinations?
Travel inherently comes with risks. As part of their duty of care program, companies should be proactive about protecting traveling employees who may be vulnerable based on the destination’s culture or the traveler’s risk profile.
For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) travelers can face unique challenges when traveling abroad. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships and other activities, and LBGTQIA travelers should consider preventive measures to protect themselves.
Similarly, women traveling to certain regions in the Middle East should take extra precautions regarding how they dress and behave in public places to avoid glares and other unwanted attention.
Travelers of any background visiting a country where they will be a minority may want to learn more about the attitudes its citizens have toward diversity and if racism may be an issue.
Instead of singling out one group or individual, we recommend providing safety training for all travelers that includes information on the specific issues minority groups may encounter. Many companies send employees country-specific, pre-trip briefings on the destinations they are visiting, which can cover these points. Then you can encourage anyone who has qualms about visiting a particular destination because of security concerns to speak with a manager or the travel team in private.
4. Are you educating travelers about the cultures of the places where they are journeying to?
When traveling, employees need to represent themselves as upstanding citizens and the company’s stance around DE&I by respecting the communities and clients they are visiting. This, however, may require special training for them to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural differences of the places they are visiting, especially when it’s a new destination.
This is also where pre-trip briefings can come in handy. In addition to security, health-related risks, and entry/exit requirements, these reports can include information on the local laws, cultural expectations, appropriate attire, meeting protocols, and other etiquette pointers.
The training can also tie into the company’s larger DE&I initiatives. As a recent Skift article points out, “culture coaches” are being hired by a number of organizations to improve employees’ intercultural communication as well as cultural intelligence and capability. Culture coaches can help travelers better navigate social and business situations in a particular destination, instill greater self-awareness of their own biases, and offer ways to adapt to other cultures with more ease.
5. Does your travel program feature diverse suppliers and ones with diversity programs?
During a recent symposium series the BTN Group hosted on DE&I in business travel, several business travelers who identify as Black, Asian-American, LGBTQIA, or have physical or mental disabilities discussed their negative travel experiences, exposing the discrimination minorities can experience during their journeys.
The audience heard from Black travelers who were questioned about sitting in their premium class airline seats, meeting attendees who were challenged to access buffet-style meals during all-day conferences, and LGBTQIA travelers who were publicly embarrassed by hotel front desk employees.
That’s why diverse suppliers (i.e., businesses that are at least 51% owned and operated by an individual or group that is part of a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group) and suppliers with diversity programs are essential to a travel program. Such suppliers can better understand the unique challenges diverse travelers face and support them.
During the request for proposal process, ask suppliers to share their DE&I strategies and what they are doing to provide a safe and inclusive place for their customers. You may also want to check into their recruitment and training programs and see if they have a chief diversity officer helping to shape policies.
We also recommend speaking to your travel management company about how it can support your diversity supplier goals.
To learn more about what we are doing in this area to help clients, read this interview with Tonya Hempstead, vice president of DE&I at American Express Global Business Travel.