Traveling for business can be an exciting and rewarding experience for employees, but it can also pose challenges for those with disabilities, health conditions or diverse needs.
Just like they are essential to your company culture, diversity and inclusion are an important aspect of business travel. Let’s take a look at the main inclusivity challenges that your employees may face while traveling for business and how you can make business travel more inclusive.
What are diversity and inclusion in the workplace
To achieve diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, having a pool of employees coming from different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, abilities or religions is only a starting point. Your business also has to empower and trust these employees to make them equally involved in the workplace.
Does your company employ a good proportion of women? If so, that’s great, but how many of those women are in managerial positions or part of the C-suite? How about people of color, with disabilities or from the LGBTQ+ community? Having diverse employees in leading positions is key to achieving inclusion in the workplace.
Diversity challenges faced by traveling employees
Business travel can be fun and exciting for employees, but it can also be a source of stress, discomfort and even insecurity if they aren’t included. Here are some of the challenges that specific employee groups can face when traveling for business:
- Women – female employees traveling for business are particularly exposed to safety risks. According to a 2023 survey commissioned by World Travel Protection, 71% of female respondents think traveling for work as a woman is less safe than traveling as a man. Despite this alarming number, a minority of businesses address women’s safety in their travel policy.
- People of color – business travelers of color are among the most exposed to discrimination and aggression when traveling for business. They might be treated differently by the personnel at the airport, flight attendants or hotel personnel or get uncomfortably stared at by complete strangers. But they are also at risk of suffering from microaggressions or being physically assaulted.
- LGBTQ+ travelers – as of 2023, over 60 countries still criminalize homosexuality. It’s no wonder LGBTQ+ business travelers face a number of challenges, from verbal abuse to assault. According to the 2023 Global Business Travel Survey, 90% of LGBTQ+ business travelers have hidden their sexual orientation while on a business trip, the main reasons being safety issues (55%) and privacy issues (55%).
- People with disabilities – employees with disabilities can face a lot of difficulties while traveling. These challenges can range from poor infrastructure, transportation issues and lack of accommodations to being a victim of aggressive behavior. Providing employees with an accessible travel experience should be a priority for your company.
To support your employees in their business trips and provide an inclusive travel experience, it’s essential for your company to have a strong business travel policy.
How to make your business travel policy more inclusive
The more your business travel policy is inclusive, the better supported and protected your employees will be and the more motivated and efficient they’ll be at work. You can develop an inclusive business travel programme by addressing the following points:
1. Listen to your employees
Having an inclusive workplace that encourages open communication and trust can make your employees feel more comfortable sharing their specific needs. Listen to your employees when they share their concerns and carefully assess their demands to support them in the best way you can. Consider updating your business travel policy and adopting a travel management solution that addresses their needs.
2. Propose flexible transportation and accommodation options
To make sure that all your employees’ needs are taken into account, offer them flexible transportation and accommodation options. Giving your employees more autonomy to book the option that suits them best can improve their traveling experience by reducing stress and anxiety, and accommodating specific needs.
- Some people might have strong preferences for taking the train over flying, or traveling in the afternoon versus morning. For example, autistic employees could benefit from a travel option that won’t cause major disruption to their routine. Parents and caregivers can benefit from such flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance by arranging their business trips around their family obligations.
- Let employees choose their preferred seat on the plane. Having the possibility to get up at any time by sitting on the aisle might reduce anxiety for some people, while others will feel more comfortable by the window.
- Accommodation-wise, some employees might feel more at ease staying at a property where they can prepare their own meals and keep their usual routines rather than experimenting with eating out. Others might prefer to not have to deal with the mental workload that comes with cooking.
- When it comes to transportation, neurodivergent employees may need some quiet and prefer to ride in a taxi rather than in a crowded bus or metro, so take their preference into account.
3. Support your LGBTQ+ employees and employees of color
Create a safe experience for your employees by doing research and providing guidelines about destinations and properties where LGBTQ+ travelers and people of color are welcome. Offer your employees access to travel guides, apps and websites for safety information and legal resources about the LGBTQ+ community in the destination country, especially those where LGBTQ+ rights may not be protected.
Likewise, make sure employees of color have access to information regarding possible discrimination or challenges they might face in the destination country. Of course, you should encourage conversations about concerns around safety and clearly indicate what support is available in case of need. If an employee doesn’t feel safe traveling, you should find a solution, whether it’s carrying their duties through online meetings or traveling to a different destination.
4. Support female business travelers
Allow female travelers to make accommodation choices they feel safe with and stay in an area where they won’t be isolated. If needed, allow them to travel with a companion (if allowed, that should also apply to other business travelers), especially if they have concerns about safety or late-night travel. To achieve higher diversity in business travel, make sure to provide female employees with information about potential cultural differences and how they should adapt to the destination's culture.
If a female employee doesn’t feel comfortable or safe going on a business trip, discuss with them about other options available. In any case, you shouldn’t put your employees at risk.
5. Make sure employees with disabilities are accommodated
To be inclusive towards your employees with disabilities, the first step is to make sure that your employee data is accurate so that you know who has a disability that needs to be taken into account for traveling.
Make sure that your employees don’t book their business trips outside of your business travel platform and that it includes filters to search for accommodation options that offer facilities for disabled guests. In terms of transportation options, inform employees who will need assistance at the airport of what the procedure is. As per business travel policy, all European airports and airlines are required to offer assistance to disabled travelers free of charge. Travelers who have a disability or reduced mobility can be provided with a wheelchair, get help to board the plane or support connecting to another flight. They can also get seating accommodation assistance that meets their needs and assistance with loading and stowing their luggage.
To go from the airport to the final destination, accessible travel solutions such as adapted rental cars can be pre-booked to accommodate the specific needs of your employees.
It’s also good practice for all travelers to carry any medical prescription they may have on them in case authorities at the airport request to check it.
6. Don’t forget about neurodivergent employees
Neurodivergence is the umbrella term used to define how someone's brain processes information, functions and behaves differently from what is considered typical. Neurodivergence includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and more.
Neurodivergent employees often have different needs or preferences than other employees when it comes to business travel. For example, being in an airport or taking a flight involves a high sensory input that some neurodivergent people may not be able to deal well with. To make your employees feel more at ease, consider giving them access to the airport’s lounge where they’ll be able to relax and get away from the buzz of the airport (and do some focused work while waiting for their flight). Likewise, queuing for security and passport checks can be a very stressful experience, so why not look into getting a membership to allow your business travelers to access the priority security lane and passport control?
The best thing to do is to ask your employees what option is best for their needs.
7. Care for dietary requirements
Some of your employees might have strict dietary requirements that should be taken into account when booking transportation and accommodation options. Employees who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or who have specific allergies, intolerances or coeliac disease should still have food options available when traveling.
Likewise, religious business travelers may have specific dietary needs, such as not eating meat or fish, or eating only Halal or Kosher foods. So make sure to plan ahead and communicate effectively with the airlines or hotels you’re partnering with so they can cater to employees’ specific needs.
8. Be aware of cultural differences and religious holidays
To be inclusive when it comes to business travel, it’s essential you take into account cultural differences and religious holidays. You can pay special attention to not asking employees to go on a business trip during an important religious holiday or show some flexibility. You can also help your employees with their business trip by educating them about the cultural specificities of that country such as greetings or dress code.
Offer training and resources
Raise awareness about workplace diversity and inclusion by providing information regarding the challenges that employees may face, especially during business travel. Whether it’s employees, managers or travel specialists, everyone in the company needs to have the knowledge to handle inclusivity challenges. A few topics to train your employees on are disability awareness, cultural differences, safety and emergency procedures. You can also recommend some contacts, websites or apps to help your employees navigate their business trips.
Ask for feedback
To evaluate the quality of your employees’ business travel experience, there is nothing like asking them for feedback. You can do so through in-person meetings or anonymous surveys. Your business travelers’ impressions will help you identify any possible improvements and review your accessibility and inclusivity policies regularly. Be open to listening to any concerns regarding safety and inclusion and share how you can offer support in case of need.
Foster an inclusive company culture
By fostering an inclusive company culture where all employees feel valued, you’re laying the basis for an inclusive business travel experience. Your company culture can be more inclusive through the following actions:
- Promoting or giving the same opportunities for growth to all employees
- Having diverse and unbiased hiring practices
- Creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) where employees can find support
- Having an equal pay policy
- Using inclusive language
- Having a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment
Remember your duty of care
As an employer, you have legal and ethical obligations to make sure your employers are safe when they travel for work. This duty of care concerns all aspects of a business trip, from the preparation to the return home. Before sending an employee on a business trip, you should always assess risks, have an up-to-date travel policy, make sure that employees are insured for any risk they might incur and be able to provide support at any time.
To make your employee’s business travel experience as inclusive as possible, keeping yourself informed and asking for direct feedback from business travelers in your company is key. Cultural awareness will also help you better protect and include your employees when they’re traveling abroad.