Discrimination, prejudice and racism are all around us, each and every day. People are often labeled as “other” when they fail to align with dominant, mainstream or majority races, religions, sexual preferences or even gender. So, how do these realities affect women of color when they travel?
As a travel manager, it’s important that you understand the challenges women of color face when they are away from the office.
In late 2017, the Women Who Travel podcast hosted a roundtable that specifically addressed women of color. In short, the podcast pulled back the curtain on just how different the travel experience is for these women. Here’s a look at some of their key takeaways, as well as recommendations.
Discrimination Based on Race, Ethnicity and Nationality
The color of a woman’s skin and the country that issued a woman’s passport can greatly affect the travel experience — and not in a good way. One woman of color who was flying first class was told by a gate agent to wait at the end of the line because she had shown up too late for immediate boarding. This is highly unusual, as first class passengers are nearly always boarded before any other passenger flying in coach, no matter when they show up.
The same woman of color holds both passports from the United States and Uganda. When flying to Sri Lanka, she presented her Ugandan passport because it was the one holding her visa. She was stopped and questioned about her immigration status, and she was asked to present her United States passport to prove citizenship, all while walking from security to her flight.
These are questions that most travelers do not have to answer, and these are situations that most travelers never have to experience at the airport.
Negative Reactions to Attire and Language
The way a traveler is treated at the airport, in flight, at hotels and in other travel-related spaces is often affected by attire. Simply wearing a hijab or a similar head cover can lead to a great deal of anxiety for Muslim women. Many times women of color feel they need to conscientiously dress more Western or more “white” in order to remain under the radar while traveling from one destination to another.
Similar to the way women of color feel they need to dress more Western while traveling, they also feel they should speak English as much as possible to avoid profiling.
In general, the travel industry is marketing to a white, upper-middle-class audience, and these ads are no doubt effective in connecting with that audience.
Tales of passengers being removed from flights simply for speaking Arabic are widespread, and many Muslim passengers have learned to avoid speaking non-English languages in order to avoid the same fate. Many even travel with the name and number of an attorney handy, just in case they find themselves in a situation where they are being discriminated against.
Anxiety When Passing Through Security, Immigration and Customs
Women of color have learned to arrive at the airport far earlier than their colleagues and friends. That’s because women of color are nearly always flagged for further security checks, both while passing through security at American airports and while going through immigration and customs when entering the country.
Of course, business travelers thrive on efficiency and spending as little time as possible going through security, immigration and customs. Getting flagged for additional screenings can place an unnecessary burden on women of color that others don’t experience.
Marketing to a Narrow Audience
Look at any sort of marketing or advertising by a travel brand, and you’ll most often see white, attractive and millennial subjects. In general, the travel industry is marketing to a white, upper-middle-class audience, and these ads are no doubt effective in connecting with that audience. But one woman of color joked that she too often sees an “attractive white woman doing yoga on the edge of a cliff” in travel advertisements.
A social media influencer who also happens to be a woman of color was denied a complimentary stay at a luxury hotel brand, even though she writes for an audience that is focused on luxury travel. She noted that the hotel brand’s social media channels include no people of color — unless they are employees at that brand’s properties.
The lack of diversity in travel marketing and advertising no doubt sends a powerful message to women of color, a message that is anything but inclusive. And there’s a significant irony to the lack of women of color in travel marketing materials. Women of color travel just as often as (if not more than) anyone else given that many are immigrants or related to immigrants, which means they are often traveling to other countries to visit family and friends — even if they are American citizens.
The Solutions May Be Diversity and Training
During the podcast, women of color were asked to provide recommendations for improvement in the travel industry. They focused on two solutions.
First, everyone working in the travel industry, from flight attendants to TSA personnel and immigration officials, should take sensitivity training. Too often people working in the travel industry make false assumptions about travelers who don’t look like them.
And, second, they also highlighted the need for greater diversity among those working in the travel industry. One of the fastest ways to improve how women of color are treated during travel is to hire more women of color to work as flight attendants, TSA personnel, immigration officials and in other important roles.
JTB Business Travel: Always on Call
You and your travelers are never alone when JTB Business Travel is your corporate travel agency. We provide comprehensive tools, services and recommendations to help your business make the most of its investment in travel while also making your team members as comfortable as possible while away from the office.
For women of color and anyone else, we offer live support 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Should you experience a challenge at an airport, at a hotel or anywhere else while traveling, we’re here for you.
Contact us today about how we can help your team members enjoy a better travel experience.