The challenges in recent past have made it crystal clear to us that disparities exist among members of our society. In light of that, we’ve been looking at gaps within our own company and developed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Center of Excellence so that everyone is treated fairly and equitably across our company. Our goal is to have a global workforce that’s reflective of our clients, partners, and communities. It’s equally important for companies to reexamine their travel program and make sure it respects individual uniqueness. With a travel policy that promotes equity and inclusion, the positive rewards of travel can be experienced by everyone.

From our standpoint, business travel is a good way to tackle the societal disparity issues we face. After all, travel can bridge minds and varying perspectives while also enabling business growth. To help our clients get the most value out of travel, we strive to remove any barriers as they plan and book travel and meetings. It’s a responsibility we take pretty seriously. Our overall goal is to make sure that all travelers can travel with confidence as their authentic selves. Considering the varying social identities that exist among employees, it’s essential to determine what your traveler needs are, the challenges they face, and what areas need improvement.

Our recommendation

Companies can make advancements in identifying traveler needs and closing gaps by having a solid and well-communicated DE&I program. Though every company has a different take on DE&I, we’ve had success with employee-led networking groups that anyone can join. These types of networking groups which gather traditionally underrepresented people and their allies together, can provide valuable insights for travel managers. They can be excellent resources for evaluating the needs of the LGBTQ+ community as an example. By listening to the exchange of ideas, interests, and challenges, travel managers can create a travel program that takes all that into consideration.

A simple question led to a slew of insights

Interestingly enough, one of our own employee-led LGBTQ+ networking groups raised a question from a client that we found was definitely worth exploring. The question was about the use of gender pronouns. Can they be changed in travel bookings for those with non-binary identities? On the surface, it seems pretty straightforward to tweak a booking system to include a third option for gender don’t you think? But simple is not the case. Here’s why:

Booking systems are part of a huge ecosystem. They would need to be adapted to accommodate a new norm in gender identification (ID). Countries that allow some type of third gender marker on passports may still require medical certifications or other documents or procedures. Even though some countries offer a non-binary option on a passport, there’s no guarantee that border control authorities in other countries will allow for entry, transit, or legal protection. In other words, everyone involved needs to be ready to accept or acknowledge the use of X as a gender. While tech teams for booking tools may have third gender ID in the research and planning stages, more needs to happen before it can be used.

It all starts with government-issued ID documents. While the gender on a passport does not have to match the gender on your birth certificate, the gender used on travel bookings must match your government-issued ID such as your passport. As a rule, we advise travelers to book trips with the gender that’s on the government ID they’ll be using when traveling, in order to avoid unnecessary travel disruption. The Transportation Security Administration provides the same recommendation.

Key turning points

Signs of hope. In early 2019, two big trade groups, Airlines for America Airlines and the International Air Transport Association approved an international best practice standard suggesting options should be available for travelers using non-binary IDs. Not long after, United Airlines became the first US carrier to offer non-binary gender booking options. Later that year, American Airlines updated their system to include X and U gender to flight bookings. Many other major US airlines and GDSs are also adjusting their systems and may already have done so, to include the X gender option. Keep in mind the gender must correspond with legal travel documents (passport or state-issued ID).

Acceptance at a country level. In an October 2021 article, Newsweek reported that at least 15 countries allowed people to amend their gender to a legalized non-binary or third gender identifier on their passport. The Netherlands is aiming to remove gender markers from national IDs altogether. While each country may have a different interpretation of gender ID, here’s a quick summary of those that allow an X option for gender on passports:

  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Columbia
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • India
  • Nepal

The US is making great strides. The US State Department issued a press release on October 27, 2021 announcing that it issued its first passport with an X gender marker. They’re looking to complete the required system and form updates in early 2022 so that this gender option could be offered to all routine passport applicants. Also helpful to know is they have a page on their website which you can bookmark and for further updates and information.

As more nations start to adopt non-binary identification in travel documents, the respective updates in the ecosystem will need to be ready. Recent developments show promise.

While enacting change across nations and the industry will take time and a culture shift, we’re encouraged by the steady progress made so far. GBT is supportive of governments reevaluating gender designations. We recognize that through acceptance, people in all walks of life can feel better enabled to travel freely as their true authentic selves.

Here’s how we can help

As you identify traveler needs and work toward building equity, diversity and inclusion management into your travel program, you may find these questions to be helpful in guiding you:

  • Are you taking any steps or actions to make all people feel comfortable regardless of sexual orientation, pronouns, and profiles?
  • Do you provide information about welcoming and discriminatory practices at the point of travel booking and hotel selection?
  • Do you assist employees who have been subjected to discrimination?
  • Do you create employee resource groups where employees can support one another and focus groups for workshop solutions?
  • Do you provide a forum on your company intranet where people can relay their experiences with discriminatory behavior and share local knowledge?

For further guidance, browse through this article which outlines other key questions to weigh when integrating DE&I into your travel program.

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