Female safety remains an overlooked issue in most corporate travel policies

Organisations’ corporate travel policies have not been updated to meet the needs of female employees, despite the dangers they face.
By: | April 15, 2019


About the Author
Jaime Wong, Coordinating Security Manager – Asia Pacific at International SOS and Control Risks

Numerous articles over the past year have, in no small measure, illustrated the clear and present dangers facing female business travellers during business trips.

Yet, it is worrying to see that not enough is being done to ensure their safety, and organisations’ corporate travel policies have not been updated to meet the needs of female employees.

The latest Ipsos MORI study ‘Business Resilience Trends Watch 2019’, which surveyed a total of 640 business decision makers across organisations in 82 countries, found that only 26% included female employee safety in their corporate travel policies.

In the same survey, it was also found that only 19% of organisations implemented safety and security checks on accommodation that their employees stayed at during business travel.

This is despite the selection of appropriate lodging being especially critical for the safety of female business travellers.

Every year, the global study is launched alongside International SOS’ interactive Travel Risk Map. The map provides guidance on the medical and security risks worldwide.

Women are often perceived to be ‘easier’ targets. For instance, from the perspective of a perpetrator of opportunistic crimes, it is easier to snatch a woman’s handbag than it is to pickpocket a wallet.

Additionally, women are more likely than men to become victims of sexual harassment and assault.

At the minimum, organisations must ensure that their female travellers understand the key medical, security and travel risks, including cultural issues, in the intended destinations.

These unique dangers do not even take into account the stresses of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment, which is a new norm for ALL business travellers.

Threats such as geopolitical events, populism, cyber security and natural disaster disruptions continue to rank high on the minds of executives.

One major factor affecting organisational policy change, which includes policies regarding female employee safety during business travel, points towards difficulties in raising awareness and advocacy.

The ‘Business Resilience Trends Watch 2019’found that 63% of organisations, an increasing number, saw educating employees about travel risks as the biggest challenge in safeguarding the health and security of their mobile workforce.

Other challenges include tracking employee travel (42%), communicating with employees during a crisis (42%), and having adequate resources to manage health and security efforts (40%).

The ability to track employee travel, communicate with employees during an incident and provide adequate assistance during an incident is essential.

At the onset of a significant incident, organisations have what is referred to as the“golden hour” to identify employees that are within the incident’s impact radius and determine the kind of assistance affected employees need.

Atminimum, organisations must ensure that their female travellers understand the key medical, security and travel risks, including cultural issues, in the intended destinations.

In that time, organisations must also have the capacity to identify and corroborate information on emergent threats as well as create communication channels to disseminate to their employees’ advice and information related to the incident.

With this in mind, organisations must not only ensure that their female employees know how to respond when an incident occurs, but also how to avoid putting themselves in unfavourable situations.

Corporate travel policies should therefore also include pre-travel safety training for their female employees. These five key principles should be applied as a minimum:


1. Understanding one’s personal profile

Knowing one’s own personal profile and how that may differ from the general populace, increases their awareness of individual exposure to the different dangers.


2. Research the cultural etiquette of a destination ahead of time

Understanding the culture of a place enables appropriate and acceptable behaviour in an unfamiliar environment.

For example, pious Muslim men in some Muslim countries may not shake hands with women. Instead, they may put their hand over their hearts to exhibit sincerity.

Knowing this would help female travellers feel more at ease and react to their local male counterparts appropriately.

Female travellers are also advised to dress appropriately in more conservative societies to avoid standing out and attracting unwanted attention.


3. Avoid being complacent

Incidents often occur in locations people feel safest in, as it is easy to let one’s guard down in places they know well. Staying alert and vigilant at all times is key to mitigating many risks.


4. Be confident and assertive

Female travellers can limit unwanted attention by appearing self-assured when travelling from point to point in unfamiliar locations.

Tourist maps and perplexed expressions are the most obvious signs for people with negative intentions to capitalise on.


5. Keep a light carry in public

Travellers should bear in mind that a non-confrontational response is the best option when accosted by someone with a weapon in an armed robbery or confrontation.

To maintain a low profile and mitigate the crime-related risks, avoid displaying obvious signs of wealth and ensure that only the daily essentials are packed. This would make the potential loss of possessions more manageable.

Ultimately, it is the onus of organisations to fulfil their Duty of Care responsibilities to their mobile workforce. Employees are a key asset.

In order to build robust travel mitigation programmes that provide their overseas workforce with a peace of mind during their trips, organisations must consistently and thoroughly review their procedures and policies to reflect modern-day corporate travel requirements and trends.

This should include specific considerations for the increasing number of women travelling for business or being posted for long-term work assignments, even to high-risk environments.