Have times really changed for women in business travel?

International Women’s Day 2024 is an occasion for us all to #InspireInclusion in our personal and work spaces. The “Connections with BCD Travel” podcast is celebrating the movement with a special episode featuring Carolyn Pearson, CEO of inclusive travel safety organization Maiden Voyage, and BCD’s Miriam Moscovici, Simone Gray and Hazel Smith. Our guests and co-hosts together challenge the question: Have times really changed for women in business travel?

They explore how to optimize travel programs for inclusion – from personal safety while traveling, to managing nursing on work trips, and what women travelers might encounter based on a local culture or geographic region. If you only have time to listen to one podcast today, this is the one.

“For me, this topic isn’t just ‘that woman thing’ again,” said co-host Moscovici, who also leads BCD’s Research & Intelligence group. “Inclusion isn’t just a buzz topic, it’s a real life thing, and it’s important from every angle: the traveler, the ally, the travel management company, and the suppliers.”

“Thankfully women have progressed from being those that book business travel for others to being those that undertake it as a key part of their roles,” Pearson said. “But we really have seen minimum attempts by the industry to make business travel more welcoming.” She explained how real inclusion involves a massive shift in thinking. In practice that means creating openness for women with different experiences to articulate what they need – whether they are a traveler planning their first summer apprenticeship, an expecting mother or someone who just suffered a miscarriage, or an LGBTQIA+ traveler.

This episode opens the door to more conversation how to create more access in business travel for everyone across different diversity dimensions.

Listen to the conversation below or at bcdtravel.com/podcast. You can also find it wherever you get your podcasts.

In this episode: Carolyn Pearson (Carr), CEO of Maiden Voyage, an inclusive travel safety organization and BCD marketplace partner; Miriam Moscovici, Connections co-host and Vice President, Product & Intelligence at BCD; Simone Gray, Senior Manager for BCD marketplace; and Hazel Smith, director of supplier relations and a BCD DE&I champion.

Introduction: Welcome to Connections with BCD Travel, an ongoing conversation about the modern day travel program, the impact of technology, and how travel buyers can take control and drive change. What are we waiting for? Let’s start connecting.

Miriam Moscovici: Hello everyone. Welcome back to Connections with BCD Travel. I’m Miriam Moscovici, and I lead BCD’s Research and Partnerships team. We’re celebrating International Women’s Day on this episode, so you’re tuning in for a great session. But before we get into today’s details, a quick reminder that we’d love receiving your feedback, so go to BCDtravel.com/podcast to connect with us. So like I said, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day on this episode, and you might have noticed that I’m missing my normal co-host, Chad. Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon, but I’m excited to have a voice you might recognize as my co-host today.

Simone Gray: Hello everyone. I’m Simone Gray. If you listen to the Connections podcast, you might remember me from the marketplace matchmaking episode we published a few weeks ago.

Miriam Moscovici: Simone, it’s great having you. I love hosting with you. And for all of our listeners out there, Simone and I actually work together on the same team, so having her here is extra special for me.

Simone Gray: Well, it’s special for me too. Not only do I get to try my hand or voice, I should say, at podcasting, but we’re also talking about a topic that’s important to me with two guests I’m excited to hear from.

Miriam Moscovici: First we have Hazel Smith, a Supplier Relations director at BCD, who is also on our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

Simone Gray: And we’re also joined by Carolyn Pearson, CEO of our marketplace partner, Maiden Voyage.

Miriam Moscovici: I think this episode is going to be unique, Simone, not only because you’re here, but we’re going to be tackling topics from a few different angles.

Simone Gray: Well, I say we get to it.

Miriam Moscovici: International Women’s Day has its roots in labor movements dating back to the early 1900s and gives focus to issues such as gender, equality, violence, and abuse against women. What’s great about International Women’s Day is that the United Nations observes the holiday every year and the UN and many other organizations mark this day in unique ways. One of the global themes this year is inspire inclusion. Hazel, I want to start with you. You’re part of BCD’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. As a professional in business travel, what does inspire inclusion mean to you and to BCD as a whole?

Hazel Smith: Well, BCD has done some really strong work in the DE&I space. So in early 2023, we built on a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and as an organization, added a focus on equity into the mix. And it’s a courageous thing for an organization of this size and global profile to admit that there are opportunities to do better in creating more access and opportunities for everyone across our many different diversity dimensions. But in context with our specific topic today, having a focus on growing the representation of women in senior level positions and working to close gender pay gaps that may exist, there are two great examples of how we’re moving forward. And to answer your question, inspiring inclusion means respect and fairness for all members of the BCD family, it means empowerment to develop and grow, and it means a commitment to make a positive impact on people’s lives inside and outside of the workplace.

And personally, I see DE&I as a legacy. We should all be invested in making positive changes for the women that will come after us. So the ones graduating from university this summer, starting apprenticeships this week, the ones creating their first ever LinkedIn profile right now. Their workplace will be very different to ours, and as leaders, we can’t fail. They’ll be excited and inspired by that.

Simone Gray: And Carolyn, I know you feel quite passionate about this topic too. You and the Maiden Voyage team have been helping travel managers and travel programs ensure they’re optimized for inclusion, especially when it comes to women travelers. Tell us more about that.

Carolyn Pearson: That’s right, Simone. At Maiden Voyage, we teach organizations and employees to bring DE&I into their travel risk management practices through training and education. Personally, I encounter people regularly who move me when they’re sharing how they felt excluded or unsafe when on a business trip, and that can be heartbreaking.

Miriam Moscovici: A big aspect of this conversation for me is ensuring that we look at this topic holistically. It’s more than just saying “you need to do X, Y, Z when you travel,” because while that’s really important, we also need to inspire inclusion by inspiring change, and globally.

Simone Gray: Well, let’s talk about how times have changed for women in business travel. Carolyn, can you quickly take us through the last few decades?

Carolyn Pearson: Yeah, of course. Well, I mean, thankfully women have progressed from being those that book business travel for others to being those that undertake it as a key part of their roles. But we really have seen minimum attempts by the industry to make business travel more welcoming for women. I mean, of course we’ve seen women only hotel floors or we’ve seen women only taxi services, but in reality, we’ve still got a long way to go. Simple allyship can make a massive difference. For example, not too long ago, I was out for dinner with some industry partners in New York City. The group was predominantly men, and we all ordered ride shares to get back to our accommodations, but unfortunately, mine was the last one to arrive and I was left stood outside the restaurant late at night, feeling really, really vulnerable.

Miriam Moscovici: Hazel, when it comes to the company’s duty of care program, what’s your opinion on how travel managers can make sure they’re thinking of things accurately?

Hazel Smith: They must think about women holistically because as you said before, it’s more than just personal safety and it’s part of the broad duty of care theme. So of course there’s the personal safety pillar, but then there are the health needs that women face while we’re on the road. And for global programs, there are vast differences in what women travelers might encounter based on local culture, for example, or even geographic region.

Carolyn Pearson: Those are really great points, Hazel. It is important that individuals are empowered to do their own risk assessment based on their own personal needs, and to be able to communicate them without fear of judgment or discrimination. Creating a culture of safe open communication means that women won’t feel that they need to compromise their personal safety in order to comply with the travel policy. And also uniquely, women are experiencing life events such as pregnancy or breastfeeding or menopause or perhaps caring for an aging parent, and when you marry that with navigating geographically diverse cultures, these sometimes require some pre-travel research when it comes to attitudes towards women, such as the more subtle things to consider like appropriate clothing or how to greet somebody in a business setting. I certainly remember when I was working in the Netherlands for a number of years, I was caught out by the greeting of three kisses, and I never knew which side of the cheek to start on, and inevitably it was a wrong one, and that just got really embarrassing.

Miriam Moscovici: I have accidentally kissed a colleague on the lips, miscalculating how many kisses I’m supposed to receive and deliver. It wasn’t intentional.

Simone Gray: So let’s put this conversation into context for our listeners. What do travel managers need to know when it comes to women in business travel today?

Hazel Smith: Well, my tips would center around, well, being aware of gender bias. So in preparation for this call, I Googled “what do women business travelers value?” and was bombarded with, frankly, a load of patronizing, useless tips. So, “how to pack an appropriate capsule wardrobe, wash bag essentials I can’t live without.” Seriously, this is not our first rodeo. We all want to look good, feel confident, and do a professional job when we travel. Travel managers should be picking suppliers and taking a holistic approach to travel procurement that just enables and encourages that, and then definitely health, mental and physical. There are some fantastic hotel brands out there now, to give you an example, that are all about enabling travelers to be sure that the training plan or the diet isn’t put on hold Tuesday to Thursday this week just because you happen to be away from home. So it’s about making travel a positive, healthy experience that fits in with your wellness goals. So if you engage with those hotel suppliers, they are just a massive asset.

And finally, I would definitely say be mindful that colleagues, they might have many plates spinning outside of work and back at home. So in my case, I’m a hundred percent committed and focused on what I need to achieve from any business trip when I’ve had the flexibility to plan well and can check in regularly so I’ve got some peace of mind. I just know that everything back at home is running as it should. Carolyn, I’d be really interested to hear what you’d add to that.

Carolyn Pearson: Yeah, sure. I think the main thing is that don’t make decisions on behalf of women. What I mean by that is don’t decide where women can and cannot travel, but instead point them at the right resources so that they can make those decisions themselves. And then ensure that your travel program’s got an efficient and effective reporting program so that if things go wrong, you can take corrective action. Knowing what to do if there’s a crisis on the road is really vital because the sad truth is that in many areas, women aren’t safe to report a serious incident in the same way that we might do at home, for example. And then finally, just ensure that you’ve got clearly defined support systems and resources in place for each step of the journey. So pre-trip planning, on-trip duty of care, and again, that post-trip feedback and follow up where needed.

Miriam Moscovici: And you have some opinions about policy, right Carolyn?

Carolyn Pearson: I do. Absolutely. I’m diametrically opposed to incorporating the complexities of DE&I into a single travel policy. That doesn’t benefit anybody. And as Hazel said, we need a holistic and a personalized approach to duty of care.

Miriam Moscovici: Okay. Well, do you have any thoughts on what should be put into a company’s travel risk management policy in 2024 and beyond?

Carolyn Pearson: Yeah, certainly. Well, don’t ask, “Are you pregnant? Are you menopausal or LGBTQ plus?” But do ask, “What do you need?” Focus on the solution and not the why. And then think about that privacy versus disclosure. We all have good intent, but we have to respect the privacy laws. Combine the power of your multiple partners, for example, Crisis24 or International SOS or Maiden Voyage, with your own travel risk management team. We all play together really well to keep your people safe and utilize the resources that you’ve already got at hand.

Simone Gray: Carolyn, as I scroll through social media, I often see lists. The safest cities for women, the most dangerous, et cetera, should we be paying attention to these?

Carolyn Pearson: Oh yes, Simone. I see those lists all the time. And this data is really interesting, but it’s vital for travel managers to understand that it will always be different per person. Unthinkable situations can happen anywhere, even in the safest of destinations, and that’s why it’s essential to educate your travelers on risk mitigation and response, what to do if something goes wrong.

Simone Gray: And Hazel, as Miriam said, one of the global themes for this year’s International Women’s Day is inspire inclusion. So what advice do you have for an ally?

Hazel Smith: Oh, I love this question because equity for women can’t only be talked about by women. So it’s simple things like being an active bystander, thinking about more than just yourself. That would go a long way. Changing how we talk to our colleagues can help, too. So to give you an example, rather than, “Do you need me to do X, Y, Z on our trip?” It should be, “What can I do to help you on our trip?” And that will go a long way, especially for those travelers who might feel uneasy or like they’re being difficult when they’re asking for help. And this also comes down to weaving a cultural shift into your entire organization, and that starts by just encouraging inclusive behavior.

Carolyn Pearson: I think we could even extend this, Hazel, to creating inclusive events too. I’ve got my own set of magic questions, and one of those is, “We value diversity. What do you need from us to feel included in this event?”

Miriam Moscovici: I think that’s a great point, right? Kind of painting a very realistic picture of what might happen. So let’s just say paint a scenario for me here. We have a traveler, a woman traveler, and she does say I need some assistance. What types of assistance or actions do you typically see a travel program being able to take to accommodate some of the needs that women might have uniquely traveling around the world? Can you paint some examples?

Carolyn Pearson: Yeah, of course. So again, when you are asking people what they want, you’ve got to be open to the things that they might tell you. And it could be something off-piste or it could just be, “I need a really quiet room. I don’t need to be staying with that colleague. I want to go to that destination, but I need a little bit more information about it to ensure my safety.” Or as Hazel mentioned earlier, “I’ve got a fitness program that I want to continue, but I know I’m traveling to a country where women are only allowed to use the gym between this time and this time, and we’ve got meetings planned at that time, so how can I maintain my fitness schedule but still fit in with the culture that I’m traveling to?”

Miriam Moscovici: And what about milestone events that women typically, or may have, like pregnancy or menopause or nursing. How do those present themselves in a business travel environment to women travelers?

Carolyn Pearson: Yeah, so there’s certain things that might be off limits. For example, certain travel vaccinations or it may be that somebody’s breastfeeding and they’re not able to have the yellow fever vaccination, there’s a Zika virus, and then the whole host of symptoms which come with menopause. So again, asking the question rather than deciding what you think those people need. And one of the things that I’ve seen that might be a bit radical, but actually some organizations have got a no travel, no justification process whereby somebody just says, or is allowed to say, “I can’t take that trip.” Because actually, early disclosure might be a problem for somebody, or they might have a history of miscarriage and therefore it’s a very delicate situation, or they could be going through IVF. There’s so many different scenarios.

Miriam Moscovici: You touched on, Carolyn, around asking women what they want rather than making assumptions, and I would assume that that comes into play very much so when you’re working on accommodating women who are coming from a culture different from where you are. So this applies across the board, not just women traveling from west to east, but women traveling from east to west, right? There’s differences and they all seek to be accommodated.

Carolyn Pearson: You’re absolutely right, Miriam. Culture is global, it’s international. In any direction that you’re traveling to, you could be a cultural minority. And even in parts of Europe where countries have banned the headscarf, that could be problematic, for example, for women traveling from the Middle East to parts of Europe. We’ve seen an uprising in sort of racial hatred, and that could be very much targeted at women based on how they’re dressed.

Miriam Moscovici: It’s so inspiring to hear you both talk. For me, this topic isn’t just “that woman thing” again, and inclusion isn’t just a buzz topic, it’s a real life thing, and it’s important from every angle, the traveler. The ally, the travel management company, and the suppliers.

Simone Gray: Carolyn, I do want to make sure our listeners know how to engage with Maiden Voyage if they want to dive deeper into this topic, or anything that Maiden Voyage can do for their program.

Carolyn Pearson: They can find us in the BCD marketplace, or of course, come to our website, www.maiden-voyage.com. But if you’d love to meet us in person, then come and see us at the Business Travel Show in London on the 19th and 20th of June.

Miriam Moscovici: Carolyn, if somebody does get in touch with Maiden Voyage, what are the types of things that you would do for a travel program?

Carolyn Pearson: One of my favorite things that we do for the travel programs is we work with organizations to actually teach them how to create an inclusive travel program. So that starts with a training program, and then of course, we look at what resources they’ve got internally, which travel management company they’re working with, hopefully BCD, and which travel risk management company they’re working with, and then we map out the processes to make their travel program really inclusive based on millions of different characteristics.

Miriam Moscovici: And what’s the call to action that normally occurs? Is there a problem they’re solving for or is it just the progression of general DE&I programs at the enterprise?

Carolyn Pearson: Well, it’s a mixture. Sometimes organizations are massively investing in DE&I, and therefore they want to filter that down into the travel program. But sometimes, sadly, they have had an incident and then they want to rectify that or make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Miriam Moscovici: And the work that you do, does it apply to populations beyond just women travelers? Does it transcend across a variety of different stakeholder or ally groups?

Carolyn Pearson: Totally. So we look at things like LGBTQ travelers, we look at cultural minorities, we look at a whole range of things around disability, neurodiversity, even male travelers.

Miriam Moscovici: Okay, you two. Last question. In just a sentence or two, what do you want our listeners to think about when it comes to women in business travel? Hazel, you first.

Hazel Smith: Well, we are an asset. We are committed to excellence. We’re subject matter experts. I think you can hear. I’m speaking from the heart here because I’m thinking about all the brilliant women I work with at BCD and across our supplier network. We are fantastic people professionally and personally. So value that, value that every day, not just on International Women’s Day.

Carolyn Pearson: You may never know the pressure or life events that your women are experiencing. Whilst at the same time having to navigate the unique challenges that they’re facing when traveling around the world. What’s the one thing that you can do, share or ask that will enable them to be their best selves and to really thrive while they represent your company around the globe?

Miriam Moscovici: Well, I think we have two things to celebrate on this episode, International Women’s Day, and the fact that you just successfully hosted your first podcast, Simone.

Simone Gray: Oh, thanks. It was fun. And covering this topic was really exciting for me because I think that as a woman, I can just relate to a lot of the things that we’re talking about, and I think it’s just important that we have these conversations around how we can best support each other and be allies.

Miriam Moscovici: Have an opinion on what we talked about today? Head to BCDtravel.com/podcast to give us feedback and be sure to download and review the Connections podcast wherever you are listening.

Conclusion: Thank you for connecting with us. BCD Travel helps companies travel smart and achieve more. We drive program adoption, cost savings, and talent retention through digital experiences that simplify business travel. Learn more about the topics you heard on this episode by visiting bcdtravel.com/podcast.

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