How can you support LGBTQ+ business travellers?

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5 min read

JOHANNESBURG – There’s a lot of talk about inclusivity, but business travel is an area where progress has been slow. That’s a problem companies need to address.

Research shows LGBTQ+ professionals face increasing discrimination and safety risks when travelling for work globally. A 2023 survey found that 94% of LGBTQ+ global business travellers experienced discrimination, and 82% changed hotels due to safety concerns – compared to just 53% of all business travellers. That’s a huge disparity.

“The lack of inclusivity in business travel is troubling. It creates uneven playing fields for LGBTQ+ employees, limiting their career opportunities if they feel unsafe travelling. This hurts both individuals and organisations. Plus, it undermines a company’s diversity efforts and reputation,” says Bonnie Smith, GM of Corporate Traveller.

To fix this, companies must prioritise supporting their LGBTQ+ employees when travelling, she says. “This means training all staff on inclusion, establishing clear policies to address discrimination, and partnering with LGBTQ+-friendly travel providers. By making business travel more inclusive, companies can support their diverse workforce and demonstrate a real commitment to equity.”

‘Companies clueless’ on supporting queer employees who travel

Smith acknowledges that many companies may be ill-equipped to handle the nuances of LGBTQ+-inclusive business travel. The rapid changes to LGBTQ+ rights and safety concerns worldwide can make it challenging for companies to stay up-to-date and provide adequate support.

Even in generally tolerant countries, LGBTQ+ travellers can face significant challenges. 90% of LGBTQ+ business travellers report having hidden their sexual orientation while on a trip. However, this strategy doesn’t always guarantee their safety, as risks remain even for those concealing their identity.

So how can companies better support their LGBTQ+ employees on the road? A good travel management company (TMC) can be invaluable, says Smith. These firms have global representatives with invaluable local knowledge to assist LGBTQ+ travellers. “They understand the unique risks and cultural sensitivities of specific destinations and are also accustomed to helping employees who may not have disclosed their identity but need guidance.”

The Healix Global Security Operations Centre’s 2024 LGBTQ+ Travel Security report recommends crisis protocols for medical or security incidents. Employees should also know how to access legal support if faced with assault, detention, imprisonment, or deportation.

A good travel company can ensure these safety measures are put in place, says Smith. A good starting point is a pre-trip assessment, where local laws and customs are examined, and irregularities noted (for example, Egyptian law doesn’t prohibit homosexuality, but you can be arrested for flouting public decency laws).

Pre-travel advice and training are also recommended, so employees know what to be aware of, who to contact in an emergency, and what their rights are. An extension of this is using technology to locate and communicate with travelling employees without invading their privacy. A detailed itinerary with GPS coordinates helps, and routine check-ins can be scheduled.

Inclusive travel policies should evolve in response to laws, sociopolitical changes, new safety considerations (for example, Russia has recently added the LGBT movement to its list of “terrorists and extremists”), and language usage (for example, the use of gender pronouns).

Why inclusive policies and diversity values matter more than ever

For companies with a significant number of business travellers, having an inclusive travel policy is crucial and closely tied to their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies. Companies with robust DEI policies are better equipped to support the preferences and concerns of all employees when traveling for work. 

These DEI policies help embed non-discriminatory practices and safeguard employee wellbeing and mental health while on business trips. The CDC recommends mental health screenings for LGBTQ+ travellers, as lack of acceptance and discrimination can worsen their mental health when away from home.

Companies that truly live their DEI values ensure business travellers know what to expect and can avoid risky situations while on the road. This includes providing guidance on using dating apps and social media in different locations, as even these can potentially lead to problems.

Organisations that make employees feel safe and respected, including when traveling for work, are more likely to retain talent. “An inclusive travel culture can improve morale and make staff feel valued by their employer,” says Smith.  

This extends to corporate travel policies, where addressing employees’ rights, concerns like being welcomed without judgment, and needs are vital. Booking LGBTQ+ employees into supportive accommodations when travelling creates a positive employer perception, for example.

However, some LGBTQ+ business travellers may prefer to keep a low profile and “do as the locals do” to avoid unwanted attention. Companies must be sensitive to the daily realities LGBTQ+ community members face, which can be amplified when traveling to certain destinations.

Smith has the following tips towards embracing inclusivity in your business travel programme and travel policies:

Practical tips for supporting LGBTQ+ travellers:

1. Offer staff members a pre-trip risk assessment while respecting the privacy of those who have not ‘come out’ to their colleagues. This will help you better understand their needs and concerns so that you can address them effectively.

2. Work closely with your employees to craft an inclusive travel policy. Appoint diversity representatives who can engage directly with your travel management company, ensuring the needs of all staff are heard and met.

3. Many non-binary and transgender people are hesitant to use gender-neutral travel documents due to concerns about increased security checks or bureaucracy. Find out your employees’ views on this, and work with your travel provider to accommodate their preferences where possible.

4. Ensure your travellers have access to LGBTQ+-friendly services, including healthcare, at their destinations. Consult resources like the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA.org) to identify businesses owned by or welcoming to sexual and gender minorities, or ask your TMC to pre-screen service providers.

5. If corporate travel is particularly uncomfortable or unsafe for your LGBTQ+ staff, consider alternatives such as shorter trips or teleconferencing, especially for destinations that pose higher risks.