Traveling for business can be a fun and rewarding experience for employees, but it can also pose challenges for those with disabilities, health conditions, or diverse needs.

Essential to your company culture, diversity and inclusion are also an important aspect of business travel. Let’s take a look at the main inclusivity challenges that employees may face while traveling for work and how you can make business travel more inclusive.

What does diversity and inclusion mean in the workplace

Research shows that having a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to both higher employee retention and revenue growth. But diversity in the workplace doesn’t necessarily make a company inclusive.

To achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, having a pool of employees with different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, abilities, or religions is just the start. 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 leadership positions is key to 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 airport personnel, flight attendants, hotel staff, and complete strangers. They’re also at risk of experiencing microaggressions or even physical assault.
  • 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 physical 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 (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 on business trips and provide inclusive travel experiences, your company must have a strong business travel policy.

How to make your business travel policy more inclusive

The more inclusive your business travel policy is, 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 program by addressing these points:

1. Listen to your employees

Having an inclusive workplace that encourages open communication and trust allows employees to feel more comfortable about sharing their needs. Listen to your employees when they share their concerns and carefully assess their demands to support them in the best way possible. 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 all your employees’ needs are taken into account, offer them flexible transportation and accommodation options. Giving your employees more autonomy to book the best option for them can improve their travel experiences by reducing stress and accommodating specific needs.

  • Some people might have strong preferences for taking the train over flying, or traveling in the afternoon instead of the morning. For example, autistic employees could benefit from travel that won’t disrupt their routines too much. Parents and caregivers can benefit from flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance by arranging their business trips around family obligations.
  • Let employees choose their preferred seat on the plane. Being able to get up from an aisle seat anytime may reduce anxiety for some, while others might feel more comfortable by the window.
  • Accommodation-wise, some employees might feel more at ease at a property where they can prepare their own meals and keep their usual routines rather than experimenting with eating out. Others might prefer not having to cook.
  • When it comes to transportation, neurodivergent employees may need some quiet and prefer to ride in a taxi rather than on a crowded bus or subway, so take their preferences 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 where LGBTQ+ rights may not be protected.

Likewise, make sure employees of color have access to information on 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. If an employee doesn’t feel safe traveling, you should find a solution – whether it’s carrying out their work through online meetings or traveling to a different destination.

4. Support female business travelers

Allow female travelers to make accommodation choices in areas where they’ll feel safe and won’t be isolated. If necessary, 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 foster diversity in business travel, provide female employees with information on any cultural differences and how they should adapt to the destination's norms.

If a female employee doesn’t feel comfortable or safe going on a business trip, talk to them about other options. In any case, you shouldn’t put your employees at risk.

5. Make sure employees with disabilities are accommodated

To be inclusive of employees with disabilities, the first step is to know who has a disability that needs to be taken into account for travel.

Make sure your employees don’t book work 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, tell employees who will need assistance at the airport what the procedure is. According to 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, help with boarding the plane, and support when connecting to another flight. They can also get seating accommodation and assistance with loading and stowing their luggage.

To go from the airport to the final destination, accessible travel solutions like 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 prescriptions they may have on them in case authorities at the airport ask to check them.

6. Don’t forget about neurodivergent employees

Neurodivergence is the umbrella term used to describe how someone's brain processes information, functions, and behaves differently from what’s 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 struggle with. To make your employees feel more at ease, consider giving them access to the airport’s lounge, where they can get away from the buzz of the airport and perhaps do some focused work while waiting for their flight. Waiting for security and passport checks can also be very stressful, so look into memberships that would allow your business travelers to access priority security lanes 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 are vegans or vegetarians, or who have specific allergies, intolerances, or celiac disease, need to have food options available when traveling.

Likewise, religious business travelers may have specific dietary needs, such as no meat or fish, or eating only Halal or Kosher foods. 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, make sure you take cultural differences and religious holidays into account. Try not to send employees on business trips during important religious holidays. You can also help your employees by educating them about the cultural specifics of a country, such as greetings or dress codes.

Offer training and resources

Raise awareness about workplace diversity and inclusion by providing information on the challenges that employees may face, especially when traveling for work. Whether it’s employees, managers, or travel specialists, everyone in the company needs to understand how to handle inclusivity challenges. A few topics to train your employees on are disability awareness, cultural differences, as well as safety and emergency procedures. You can also recommend some contacts, websites, or apps to help your employees navigate business trips.

Ask for feedback

To evaluate the quality of your employees’ business travel experiences, there’s 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 any concerns about safety and inclusion, and share how you can support their needs.

Foster an inclusive company culture

By fostering an inclusive company culture where all employees feel valued, you’re laying the foundation for an inclusive business travel experience. You can make your company culture more inclusive by:

  • 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 preparation to their return home. Before sending an employee on a business trip, always assess the risks, have an up-to-date travel policy, and make sure employees are insured for any risks and have access to support at all times.

To make your employees’ business travel experiences as inclusive as possible, keeping yourself informed and asking for direct feedback from business travelers is key. Cultural awareness will also help you better protect your employees when they’re traveling abroad.

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