Do employers treat travellers equally when it comes to Duty of Care?
Today’s global market place has led to an explosion of international business travel that we all take for granted.
What is surprising, however, is that out of the 57m trips taken abroad last year by UK nationals, over 51% was by women (Source FCO).
The advent of internet and social media has seen a number of female-only travel networking sites, for both business and leisure, promoting secure and safe ways for women to travel, allowing them to share that information for the benefit of others. These sites do a great job; providing relevant information for a trip in a specific country or personal experiences, and encouraging safe practices.
Business travel for women
However, what’s lacking is an understanding by corporate business of the different security issues that face their female travellers. This lack of understanding is leading to little, or no, specific advice being given on how to mitigate the risks they may face.
A recent survey conducted by the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) concluded that women are more likely to suffer specific threats such as harassment, gender-based violence, sexual harassment, verbal threats and theft/burglary.
A number of questions companies should consider include:
- Do women in our organisation travel on business?
- Are they equipped to avoid a potential safety risk when travelling?
- Do we provide them with the knowledge to avoid these risks?
Absence caused by travel-related stress and anxiety, due to incidents suffered by women whilst on business travel abroad, can present significant costs to an organisation, both in economic and moral terms.
Senior management now needs to consider the quality of duty of care provided to their employees when working and travelling abroad. They may need to look at a more gender-specific practice of risk management, one that accepts differences and addresses them within their risk management process.
Specific risks to women
Generic travel risk training does not cover some important and specific areas that relate to women. A recent survey of businesswomen travellers discovered that less than 5% had female-specific advice from the risk managers.
Cultural issues are a prime example of female-specific advice that should be included in the pre-planning of any trip. The differences between men and women in a large number of countries are at the heart of their culture and are generally driven by religious beliefs.
Western women normally enjoy a more liberal existence, and naivety is no defence against contravention of these cultural rules. Some examples of these local cultural issues are:
- A woman runs the risk of being de-robed for wearing trousers in Malawi
- A woman initiating a handshake or making eye contact could seen as flirtatious in the Arabian Gulf
- A female reporting a sexual assault in the UAE can risk being charged with unlawful sex.
Innocent mistakes by a female traveller can quite easily cause great offence!
Not only can these mistakes lead to problems with the authorities, such as arrest and detention, public humiliation, physical or sexual assault, but they can also have a detrimental effect on the business represented, with a subsequent loss of income and reputation.
Duty of Care
Risk Managers who hold responsibility for business travel and the duty of care of employees need to carefully consider whether they are fulfilling their remit sufficiently. Even in this age of equality, women clearly have a higher risk profile than their male counterparts when travelling on business to certain destinations and therefore should be provided the appropriate specific advice.
The problem often occurs when organisations are reticent to provide gender or LGBT-based travel advice for fear of crossing the discriminatory line, being perceived as patronising, or because of a lack of experience when discussing issues of a sensitive nature with the opposite sex.
Businesses can no longer afford to turn a blind eye. The potential risks to their reputation, internally with their own staff and externally to the market and the general public, if best advice is not provided, will have a far greater impact than any financial compensation dispensed to the victim.
David Rolfe CPP
Director, Security & Risk Fortune West Ltd.