Female business travel

TODAY, women are estimated to hold one in five senior management positions globally and make up 45% of the corporate travel market, meaning there are more women travelling for business than ever before. By Rebecca Malzacher
Female business travel Female business travel Female business travel Female business travel Female business travel

Published in the November 2012 PNG Report magazine

An International SOS webinar called 5 Golden Rules - Women's security and health abroad, has revealed that many organisations are not providing specific advice or guidelines related to personal safety when travelling.

International SOS provides medical, clinical and security services to organisations with international operations.

It said 34% of the people who participated in the webinar poll said their organisation did not provide specific advice or guidelines to female travellers.

Despite the increasing number of women business travellers, organisations still have a long way to go when it comes to providing the right travel safety advice to female employees.

Areas of particular concern for women abroad include sexual and opportunistic crime threats, managing cultural sensitivities and understanding local health systems and risks.

"Companies have a tendency to ignore the fact that women may experience additional threats to those faced by their male counterparts when travelling on business," International SOS Australasia regional security director Simon Francis said.

"Prevention is far better than cure, and the rise in the number of women needing our assistance shows that employers have a real duty of care to better prepare their female workers for business trips.

"This is why we provide tailored advice and training modules, working with companies to keep their female travellers safe."

International SOS has seen a 20% increase from 2011 in the number of women travellers calling its assistance centres for medical and travel security advice, with 751 women calling in the past two months.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 1: KNOW YOUR PROFILE

All women are not the same and several factors can have an impact on your exposure to risks. Be sure to know your profile and how that profile may be perceived when you travel. Key areas to consider would be your current medical/health status, physical appearance, travel experience, personality type, language skills in relation to your destination, dress preference and budget. Understanding your profile in relation to these traits can help you be more prepared for your travel and mitigate against unnecessary risks.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 2: DO YOUR RESEARCH

When travelling to a business destination do not make assumptions. Be diligent and do your research before you travel.

Recommended research falls into three main categories; geography, culture and security.

Know the geography of the city you are visiting and find answers to a few basic but key questions: how far away is your hotel from the airport and how far is your hotel from the office you are going to visit and what kind of transport will you require?

It is important to be aware of the cultural customs of your destination and also the status of women there. Do women hold positions in government? Is it appropriate to shake hands? A good rule that most women have probably learned from living in the Middle East is that men may not shake hands unless initiated by the woman.

Read up on the current events happening at your destination. This will inform you of recent developments that might impact upon your travel, such as transportation strikes, political unrest or areas prone to violent crime. Key questions are: is it safe to travel on foot even short distances; and what about taxis, is it safe to use them or do you need to have a vehicle and driver arranged?

A good source for your research could be women living and working at your destination. If you know women at your destination, contact them before travelling and ask about security risks, culture, society and etiquette.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 3: DON'T BE AN EASY TARGET

Careful and considered planning before you arrive at your destination can prevent you from being seen as an easy target. Plan your flights so you arrive during daylight hours, especially if you are going to be taking a taxi (providing your research tells you it is safe to do so). If you can, book a car service to take you to and from the airport as well as to your meetings. Also make sure roaming is set up on your mobile phone and program key contact numbers, such as the local police, your embassy, the hotel and also the number of an assistance centre if you have access to one through your company.

When at your hotel try to avoid being on the ground

floor, and having your room number said aloud at the front desk.

With regards to food or drink, be careful of spiking, even when at business events. In general, try to avoid drinking alcohol in excess when in an unfamiliar environment.

As far as transportation is concerned, always use official taxis and avoid walking alone or at night.

Some cities offer resources designed specifically for women, such as their own car or public transportation or even their own floor in hotels, which is always safer. You should be aware of these resources if you do your research.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 4: BE ASSERTIVE

Walk with purpose and confidence, appearing unfamiliar or confused can make you a potential target. When you need to ask for directions ask at a large store or inquire with the hotel clerk.

Learn to say "no thank you" with confidence and most importantly always trust your instinct, if something does not feel right it probably isn't.

GOLDEN RULE NUMBER 5: STAY CALM IN A CRISIS

Since women are statistically more prone to harassment, assault and handbag theft, it is important to know how to handle yourself in such situations.

When dealing with verbal harassment don't make eye contact and try to protect your personal space. If the situation escalates, don't be afraid to call attention to yourself; you will find people around you will come to your aid.

If you experience a more serious assault, such as armed robbery, try to stay controlled and quiet and give up your handbag or any valuable objects. It's important to remember that the attacker is unlikely to be in a rational state of mind.

From your research you should know who can help you at your destination after a crisis. Your organisation should have a security process in place, so follow it.

Your research should tell you the standards and limitations of the local law enforcement as well as your embassy.

If you can, use an assistance centre which has access to both medical and security assistance.

You should also have access to important information such as your hotel address, and copies of your passport and visa details in case the originals get stolen or lost.

Being prepared and aware is fundamental to mitigating risk while on business travel.

A careful approach is the key to keeping women safe while travelling.

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