July 15, 2024

Open minds

Six individuals in the business travel industry explore an aspect of diversity, equity and inclusion that’s close to their heart

Pauline Houston VP Business Development, Silverdoor

I feel very passionately about age inequality and that’s not because I’m a more ‘mature’ woman! Recently I did some research for a GBTA White Paper on this subject and my big ‘aha’ moment was realising that not one particular age group suffers more inequality than another. People of all ages can suffer discrimination, not just the over 50s. Young people are often wrongly dismissed as having a lack of experience, older people for being ‘past their best’ and those in between, particularly if they have children, might be dismissed for having too many responsibilities at home. Women of childbearing age might be overlooked too. But, in fact, all of these age groups can bring so many benefits to an organisation.   Age discrimination can be industry specific. For example, a consultancy business might not want to put a younger member of the team in front of a multi-million pound client, even if they’re completely capable, while a technology company might be more than happy hiring younger people and might dismiss an older person.  At SilverDoor our team has a very diverse age range, from post-graduate students on placements to people in their early 70s, and we learn from each other. I know where my weaknesses are and I look to the younger people in the team to teach me more about the new ways of working, social media and technology. Nobody, no matter how senior they are, should be afraid to admit they don’t know everything and can always learn from others. A CEO can learn from an intern. Reverse mentorship is so valuable.  

Aron Jameson Digital Projects Executive, ATPI

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity are key values organisations have worked towards in order to support individuals of different ethnicities, religion, sexual orientation, gender and more. Never before has the new generation entering the workforce had such a platform in order to hold inclusivity and diversity, not just as a preference, but as a requirement of any organisation. These past few years during Covid, the travel industry has undergone quite a shift in work culture, with the majority of employees working from home, which in return has given them more of a focus on their home-work-life balance. Alongside this, Gen Z and Millennials have seen a generational shift, where these core beliefs and values for DE&I are crucial for entering the workplace. As an LGBTQIA+ member myself, when I first came into the industry over 15 years ago, it was not a consideration of mine to question if a company had a DE&I charter, or if they partook in any charities or sustainability ventures. I was only focused on the role itself and entering employment. I am thrilled to see how the next generation is challenging employers and asking these hard questions in interviews, to ensure that their values, identities and beliefs are being supported. I believe the travel industry has seen a tremendous change towards DE&I over the past decade, with companies introducing new charters for diversity and equity, restructuring their interview process to cater to more diverse groups, and partaking in numerous ventures of sustainability and inclusivity, such as pride parades, international women’s day, coffee mornings for mental health and much more. DE&I will continue to be an ongoing objective within the industry. However, companies should consider what they are currently implementing to cater for DE&I, knowing that the next generation of employees entering the business travel sector hold ‘work culture’ and an ‘inclusive vibe’ as crucial values. We as an industry need to continue to challenge ourselves internally, with our charters, interview processes and our tools to cater for all groups of individuals.

Alice Linley-Munro, Travel Manager, Oil Spill Response

I heard someone say that a correct diagnosis was like realising you could ride the horse rather than carry it, and after a handful of diagnoses over a span of 24 years I finally put the horse down last year when I was diagnosed with combined type ADHD. I thought the diagnosis was the key, but after a lot of investigating I realise the key has been learning what my ADHD looks like and adopting strategies to help. If you ask me how long a task will take, I’ll tell you what I think but really have no concept of it thanks to ‘time blindness’. This can lead to over promising and constantly playing catch up. I also know that for me, ‘being in the zone’ is actually hyper focus, which at first glance sounds brilliant, but means I can work for eight straight hours without getting up, eating or drinking. I’ve now blocked out lunch as a calendar appointment and also have a morning reminder to do quick household tasks like sticking a wash on to get me away from my desk. Some simple changes I’ve implemented are requesting emails rather than verbal instructions, as unless I can immediately switch to the new task, I struggle to remember and process them. I also ask people to be more specific in meeting requests as something labelled ‘catch-up’ can send me into a spiral of anxiety and leave me unable to focus, and where possible I try and avoid afternoon meetings to negate the dreaded ADHD ‘waiting mode’. If I have an appointment in the afternoon I can struggle to focus in the morning thanks to a mixture of attention issues, anxiety and time blindness. Work letting me show up as myself is important to my wellbeing and my department understands that I have a tendency to want to interrupt, that I  Recent allegations of the rape of a woman at a CBI boat party is a stark reminder that employers still have a duty of care to protect their employees when attending events” THEBUSINESSTRAVELMAG.com 49 DEandI Wellbeing V9.indd 49 5/3/23 07:18 PM sometimes need to walk away and take deep breaths, or that I play with fidget toys and sit strangely on my chair. They understand that I always watch training videos with subtitles, and sometimes wear earplugs to deaden the background noise enough to help me focus. By being able to do what I need to help my brain, it means that there is a work life balance, because I’m no longer carrying the horse through my working day and collapsing in an exhausted puddle at 5pm. 

Carolyn Pearson CEO, Maiden Voyage

Business and work related social events are the glue that holds an industry together, allowing people to connect and build meaningful work relationships. However, the recent allegations of the rape of a woman at a CBI boat party is a stark reminder that employers still have a duty of care to protect their employees when attending events. Events are an extension of the workplace whether it’s an industry conference, an incentive trip or even the company Christmas party. There is a general level of maturity when it comes to preparing employees for business travel but event safety is often overlooked. In my work, I have been shocked to hear stories of those who have been impacted by the behaviour of others. One woman, so overwhelmed by the attention of her manager while at a conference, fell sick and was confined to her hotel room before flying back early to get away from him. Whilst inevitably sexual, racial and other harassment at work policies exist, there is sometimes a belief that ‘what happens on a trip stays on a trip’ and that the rules don’t apply when away from head office. Risk mitigation is relatively simple. Clear policies and codes of conduct can be communicated in the same way as other HR policies. Having a clear route to reporting incidents and short, effective training courses or eLearning can be used to arm delegates with a few simple techniques such as teaming up with an event buddy or being an active bystander to support others. Some organisations have dedicated security professionals on duty to keep an eye on proceedings and are moving away from the ‘alcohol-fuelled’ culture.

Ingrid Sanderson Owner, Principal Business Travel

Travelling for work can be tricky when you’ve got loved ones back home. Leaving your significant other to look after the kids or the dog can put a strain on relationships. Resentment can build, no matter how much you insist that it’s part of your job. In the post-pandemic world, employees are expecting increased flexibility and are far more aware of the power that they now wield in a talent market that is often starved of exceptional candidates. As a result, we’re seeing a fast emerging trend where employees are requesting ‘bleisure’ trips, often with a partner or family member in tow. It also makes sense, during these times of increased cost of living, that many people would be motivated by the opportunity to take their paid holiday around work travel. If employees feel their employer is taking an active interest in their wellbeing whilst they are away on business and meeting duty of care, productivity can be enhanced.  The question is, how do responsible employers ensure that ALL employees have access to this perk? It should not be handed out casually and without due process or consideration. It needs to be properly conceived, executed and recorded. Very few companies offer this service as part of their HR package, yet this small and relatively low-cost strategy can make such a positive difference. All of this can help reduce the impacts sustained by frequent business trips to travellers’ personal lives, the quality of relationships, physical and mental health and to mitigate decreased productivity leading to diminished job satisfaction and ultimately the dreaded S word – stress!  

Matthew Yates General Counsel, Whitbread, Premier Inn’s parent company

Disability inclusion is a topic that is incredibly important to me and I’m grateful to work for a business that shares its importance. Alongside my ‘day job’ I’m proud to be the Chair for Whitbread’s enAble disability network and the main purpose of enAble is to ensure our teams and our guests, with both hidden and visible disabilities, are represented. Staying in a hotel, in comparison with going into a shop, is so much more intimate and personal, and we continue to work hard to consider accessibility and the needs of disabled guests, who we know stay in a mix of standard and accessible rooms for all sorts of reasons, from attending a work conference to going to a concert. Needs and preferences are vast, and what one guest would like conflicts with another’s needs, but we work hard to be as accessible as possible, both through the built environment and our amazing teams, who can make reasonable local adaptations to suit the guest. Nothing makes us prouder than receiving positive feedback. Recently we had a letter from a national accessibility charity who held a Board meeting in one of our London hotels. They were full of praise for our team who proactively put water out for their dogs and took great care to safely return a charm from one of the dog’s leads that otherwise could have been hoovered up. Humility is important. Whilst we try hard to always delight every guest, we don’t always get it right, but on the rare occasions where we don’t, we listen and learn and make our processes and products better for the future, working with the disabled community, both internally and directly with our guests, and with a number of disability forums.