As a global, multicultural company with employees in over 100 countries, we understand the value of employing people with various backgrounds and how a rich array of talent can propel our company forward. Many companies share a similar philosophy, yet their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) ideals may not be adequately reflected in their corporate travel program.

Fortunately, that’s beginning to change with HR and travel managers taking a step back and analyzing how they can better represent and respect diversity within the travel programs to make sure business travelers of all backgrounds feel supported and included.

Today Tonya Hempstead, vice president of DE&I at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), shares her views on integrating DE&I goals into the travel program and what GBT is working on to support clients in this area.

Q. What should companies consider when working to incorporate DE&I policies into their travel program?

A. There are three areas I suggest they focus on:

1. Use your travel program to attract diversity.

As new generations of workers join the workforce, we’ve seen candidates ask pointed questions about enterprise purpose and employee well-being. The quality of the travel program can be a determinant of how well you are able to attract talent for high travel roles like consultancy and sales.

The last year has put a damper on travel, but it also has increased the expectations traveling staff members have of their employers. In addition to new safety expectations, they may have personal concerns never voiced before about how they would like to be supported and cared for as individuals of varying races, physical and cognitive abilities, religious affiliations, gender and sexual identities, and more. Being able to demonstrate either maturity or a willingness to make accommodations goes a long way in proving DE&I is not just aspirational.

2. Put policies in place to show inclusion.

Travel managers have always taken care of travelers’ well-being, but now they need to go a step further and consider the specific challenges of their diverse constituents. The best way to do this is to hear them out. There is nothing new here, but increased awareness in DE&I has given voice to minority groups to express their needs instead of enduring indignities.

For example, it is a known fact that women still carry the majority of household and childcare duties. Yet, it is rare that travel programs include any special accommodation to support them when they travel away from their family obligations to attend to company business. Another example: We all know that differently abled colleagues need special arrangements to travel comfortably, yet there is rarely a policy around normalizing such requests.

3. Consider the equity of your travel partners.

We need to open the choice of partners to include not just the best deals or reach but also to give diverse vendors a chance to easily bid for the business. Minority-owned suppliers tend to better understand the unique challenges diverse travelers face and how to support them, and they can bring a lot of value to your program. While supporting smaller operators sometimes can mean slightly higher costs, the payoff may be having travelers who feel understood and well cared for during their journeys. Let’s not forget that the travel program is a perk that can help attract and retain talent.

Q. When traveling, employees need to represent themselves as upstanding citizens and their company’s culture and stance around DE&I. What is GBT doing to help clients’ travelers in this regard?

A. To help our employees grow as well-rounded individuals, global citizens, and wise leaders, we have invested in new training for the leadership teams. With the help of Philip Berry, an expert in cross-cultural talent development, we examined our unconscious biases, which everyone has regardless of nationality, gender, or ethnicity.

We also have revitalized our employee resource groups and are encouraging all employees to join one or several of them so they can be exposed to the specific stories, concerns, and needs of our diverse communities. We are empowering each group to bring thoughtful conversation topics to help challenge our collective understanding. This is not a one-day wonder. It will take every leader’s effort to bring these brave moments to their teams consistently.

Our hope is that by making our people more aware of their biases and sensitive to the unique realities and needs of others, they can do a better job of supporting our clients and catering to the travelers we serve, whether it’s through the technology we build or the customer service we deliver.

Q. Companies need to be proactive about protecting traveling employees who may be vulnerable based on the destination’s culture or the traveler’s risk profile. Is there any work that GBT is doing to support this objective?

A. The safety component is critical. Right now, we are exploring ways to enhance our tools to capture the top safety practices for our diverse travelers, including women, those who are differently abled, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color and from different cultures.

For example, for one large technology client, we have created a special email address for its differently abled employees and have a group of specially trained travel counselors assisting them. By understanding and addressing their unique concerns, we can then learn from these insights and incorporate them into our tools to provide even better support and care for these travelers.

We are also looking at how to build out our technology to help diverse travelers make safer decisions. For example, not only showing the best-priced hotel in our booking tools, but also the safest hotel based on a traveler’s dimension of diversity. These types of changes will allow our travelers to make cost-effective and safe decisions.

Q. How is GBT helping clients in terms of supplier diversity within the corporate travel program?

A. There are several exciting initiatives we’re working on. But basically, we’re reevaluating our supplier diversity program through two lenses: First, internally, how do we as an organization expand our portfolio to include more small and diverse suppliers? Second, how do we assist clients? If they have an existing supplier diversity program, how can we support them in increasing their usage of small and diverse global suppliers? And for clients who do not have an established program, how do we educate them about the value of supporting the economic growth and sustainability of diverse global communities?

We’re digging deeper on how to help clients select diverse suppliers. In the US, there are many organizations, state by state, that certify vendors as being diverse suppliers. However, there’s not one overarching agency or consolidated report that allows you to identify diverse suppliers. That can make it difficult to identify and increase the usage of small and diverse suppliers that are best suited for your organization – which is why we’re engaging our partners and suppliers to develop a more effective solution to manage.

We are also looking at how we can reach out to small, diverse suppliers across the globe and help educate them on things like: How do you win business with large organizations? How can GBT help create those pathways? Do diverse vendors require support with obtaining certification?

We’re trying to go beyond having a best-in-class in-house program to taking our program out into our communities. That’s where true economic sustainability comes into play.

We’re trying not to look at this as a tick box. We need to be thoughtful. Let’s roll something out that’s not just good for us, but let’s talk about it with our clients and partners, so we can all align. The more voices and minds working on this, the more we can accelerate our efforts and make real change.

See the ways GBT is making change. View our environmental, social, and governance report.