As a global, multicultural company with employees in over 100 countries, we understand the value of employing people with various backgrounds and how diverse 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. Policies reflect company values, local and federal laws, and regulations. They are the stepping-stones that guide our path to change. What makes policies impactful is the buy-in, investment, and commitment of senior leadership. When your leaders understand how diverse voices contribute to the success of your organization, it becomes the catalyst for transitioning words into real, meaningful, and sustainable action.
In speaking with other practitioners in the DE&I space, I realize that one barrier that I don’t have is with obtaining buy-in. Our CEO Paul Abbott has always placed an emphasis on diversity and was already discussing the need to improve diversity before the social justice movement of 2020. The movement and conversations with our global, diverse colleagues validated his thinking and are the reason why we had the ability to establish dedicated support to develop and implement our global DE&I strategy and launch the DE&I Center of Excellence.
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 travelers in this regard?
A. As organizations work to improve the representation of diverse talent, we will see an increase of diverse business travelers. To maintain the safety and security of our clients and partners, we’re evaluating opportunities to incorporate diversity and acculturation awareness into our products and tools. For instance, if you are traveling to a country and may not have a good understanding about that culture, what are some of the social norms that you should take into consideration and know before you go? Things like dining, clothing, and handshake etiquette should be taken into consideration.
If travelers have a better understanding about the various cultures around the world and have those insights at their fingertips, that’s really powerful. It feeds back to the value of the work we’re doing in DE&I and elevates it from being something we aspire to achieve to an actionable and meaningful reality. That’s how we implement real change in corporate environments and across our communities.
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. When you’re talking about the various dimensions of diversity, it includes women, people who are differently abled, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color and from different cultures (cultural intelligence in business can help with awareness and diversity).
Right now, we are exploring ways to enhance our tools to capture best safety practices. For example, we are having conversations with people who are differently abled to understand the best practices they have established for themselves. Then, we want to incorporate these insights into our tools to shine a light on the need to have a higher level of awareness. Having done that, we’ll be able to revisit safety protocols and policies to support people who require additional assistance to travel safely.
We are also looking at how we can build out our equipment to help 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. A lot of organizations already have supplier diversity programs, but now we’re saying, “how do we create a best-in-class program?” This is why 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?
One of the key areas we’re exploring is 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 think about opportunities 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 we create those pathways? What are their expectations? Do they 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 is how we can accelerate our efforts and make real change.