Safety is the most important aspect to consider when planning business travel for your company. When we talk about the duty of care, we’re talking about protecting employees, and while we tend to define all employees/travellers as equal in principle, we have to ask ourselves if that’s really the case.    

Do business travellers have different needs? How do you handle LGBTQIA+ travellers’ safety?

According to SAP Concur’s survey:

  • 95% of business travellers (research conducted with 8000 business travellers from 19 different markets around the world) have hidden their sexual orientation while travelling, mainly for security reasons.
  • 85% of business travellers claim to have changed their travel arrangements because they did not feel safe (compared to just 53% of their non-LGBTQIA+ colleagues.)
  • More than 3 in 4 female business travellers (77%) admitted to being harassed or mistreated while travelling.
  • 54% of business travellers admitted that safety is not their company’s number one priority.

Understanding local culture and business travel etiquette

As we know, there are more than 70 countries in the world where it is not legally accepted to be gay. According to the testimonies of some people from the LGBTQIA+ community, there are a number of unwritten rules that they usually follow to avoid dangerous situations:   

  • If the circumstances and environment don’t allow it, it’s not worth the risk to come out. You need to evaluate whether coming out is worth the risk. If someone asks you about your wife, is it worth contradicting them? You may be in a country where homosexuality is illegal and it is important to adapt to the local culture, especially if it is work-related. Therefore, some decisions must be weighed very carefully beforehand.    
  • Adapt to the local culture.
  • Pay attention to local customs (for example, in some places in Asia, it is considered disrespectful to eat certain things)
  • Often, in some countries, some people pose as community members in order to attack other members, so be careful who you talk to. Also be careful about the apps you use when traveling, as they may be monitored in some countries.
  • Being discreet, avoiding ambiguous behavior and always thinking about what you want to say is a good way to stay safe.
  • Use resources. You can find many resources online explaining the cultures of different countries, the do’s and don’ts.
  • Connecting with people in the community can be a good way to test the waters and see what a person might say or do. The only caveat is that your coming out doesn’t have to be their coming out, and these people could be put in danger.

What can your company do to protect you?

Before you ask yourself about possible risks in countries where homosexuality is illegal, ask yourself: what is my company doing to protect me?

We mentioned earlier the duty of care, which is the employer’s duty to protect the physical and mental safety and general welfare of the employee in all circumstances, including while traveling. With respect to business travel, the company must implement risk assessments for all scenarios in which a traveler may find themselves. The document that governs all of these processes and methodologies and how they are monitored is the travel risk management policy.  

If you feel that certain risks or unpleasant situations that may arise have not been taken into account, raising the issue with your manager is always the right solution.

The duty of care already contains a number of common sense points for managing certain risks, but it is very important for a company to have an entire section dedicated to managing the risks that LGBTQIA+ people or women are most sensitive to. 

For example, as we mentioned earlier, in some countries sexual orientation can land you in jail. So you have to consider all the possible variables.

Reference numbers

It is essential that all possible cases are included in the travel risk management policy. Very often these people have not officially come out, so including this type of issue in the policy, outlining the risks, solutions and contacts is the right thing to do so that they can access all the answers without having to declare their orientation if they feel unsafe. 

Since this is a very sensitive topic, having someone in the company that people can talk to, who is sensitive to the issue and won’t make people afraid of feeling unsafe or judged, can be an added element of reassurance.

Safety plan

It is important to have a safety plan in case unforeseen events occur during the trip. The process of developing this plan should be prepared at the same time as the travel arrangements.  

Some TMC self-booking tools offer travel risk management services that track the traveler’s location in real time.

In dangerous situations, the best thing to do is to keep a low profile and avoid confrontation.

Transgender security consideration

According to a 2014 study by Community Marketing INC, 21% of transgender travellers reported problems while traveling by air due to security and identity checks.    

In fact, some U.S. travellers complained of problems with the body scanners used by the Transportation system administration (TSA) and physical searches. Body scanners are equipped with a technology called “Automatic Target Recognition” (ATR). This technology automatically analyzes the body image and displays a photo of an outline of a generic person in response. Occasionally, the scanner detects a silhouette that do not match the appearance of the person being analyzed and identifies it as anomaly. When these anomalies are detected, officers are forced to perform other security tests, such as a physical search of the area flagged as anomalous.  

This can obviously create unpleasant situations. The National Center for Transgender Equality emphasizes that the search, which is inevitable in the case of abnormalities, should be conducted by an officer of the same gender as the person in front of him or her (i.e., a male officer for a male transgender and a female officer for a female transgender). They also emphasize that no one should be searched simply because the documents suggest a different gender than they appear to be, and that no one should be subjected to questions about their gender.   

If this must happen, they recommend that you request a private search with a witness of your choice.  

(You can read more about Hailey Melville’s testimony).

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