According to a 2018 report by the Global Business Travel Association, 83% of surveyed women business travelers said they experienced a safety concern or incident within the past year, and 90% said safety concerns determine how they spend their free time while on a business trip.

Also, 86% of women respondents stated that safety concerns determine how they book travel — for example, choosing not to fly at night. 81% said safety concerns even determine how often they travel for business.

In addition, 80% revealed that their productivity level on business trips has been affected by safety concerns.

What are the top threats facing women business travelers, and how can they remain safe?

Top threats for women business travelers

"Unfortunately, the top threats women business travelers face today are not new and include opportunistic crimes such as bag snatching, sexual harassment, and sexual assault," according to Erika Weisbrod, director of security solutions at International SOS and Control Risks, a joint venture that provides medical and security travel assistance. She says this is in addition to the most common risks that any traveler might face — for example, gastrointestinal problems or traffic accidents.

There may be a variety of reasons why women business travelers are targeted. "It could be based on how they carry themselves in public settings, the language they speak, the clothes and accessories they choose to wear, and, in certain cultures, they may be perceived as more vulnerable and unlikely or unable to resist," Weisbrod explains. "In some cases, criminals will target women if they appear to be inexperienced travelers or if they seem to be uncomfortable in a foreign environment."

Security tips for women business travelers

While nothing is foolproof, Weisbrod says there are several safety precautions that women can take when traveling for business.

1. Be a Hard Target

Protect your information from strangers — this includes your personal information and details of your destination, travel route, and accommodations. "For example, be mindful of information that is shared while speaking on the phone or when engaging in conversation in public."

She also recommends arranging safe modes of transportation, such as a licensed taxi or car service, ahead of arrival. "Also, avoid arriving at destinations late at night or early in the morning."

By planning ahead, Weisbrod says you’ll be less vulnerable, and less likely to make poor decisions as a result of being tired. Also, don’t get distracted reading messages on your phone or listening to music. Be alert and aware of your surroundings.

2. Select Secure Accommodations

Sometimes,there may be a travel program or manager to choose or recommend accommodations. When this is not the case, Weisbrod says you need to research appropriate accommodations that factor in potential security risks. "These can relate to the accommodation’s on-site physical security or those in its immediate vicinity," she says.

An isolated entry, a deadbolt lock, and a peephole are some of the security measures that can make you feel safer. Some safety experts also recommend covering the peephole to prevent those on the outside from looking in. Tape a small piece of paper or cardboard over the peephole and then remove it if you need to see who is at your door.

"Also, to help ensure safety, avoid staying on the ground or a lower floor, which can be exposed to greater risks of crime, unwanted solicitors, and have less privacy," Weisbrod warns. She recommends staying on the fourth through seventh floors — but not higher, since you want to avoid challenges that could occur if you need to evacuate.

3. Pack Smartly

When packing, your goal is to maintain a low profile. "Take the time to research what attire is appropriate for the culture and climate, factoring in both business and any leisure or social engagements," Weisbrod says. In some countries, it may not be culturally or religiously appropriate to expose your head, arms, or legs.

"Additionally, be sure to leave expensive clothes, bags, and jewelry at home, as this may make you a target of opportunistic crime," Weisbrod says. Another suggestion is to carry a purse or bag with interior pockets that you can zip to deter pick-pocketing.

"And while you’re preparing for your trip, look into the medications you are allowed to bring with you (pack an adequate supply), and be sure to find out if there are medications that you can’t bring into certain countries," she says.

Right to business trip refusal

So, do you have the right to refuse to travel to a place that you deem unsafe? "If stated within an employee’s contract, businesses do have the right to ask their staff to travel on behalf of the company," Weisbrod explains. "However, employees do have the right to refuse business travel, whether it is because they do not deem a certain location to be safe or for medical reasons. For example, because the traveler is pregnant."

If you have any concerns about your personal safety, security, or health risks, she recommends contacting HR or your manager as soon as possible. “While employees should not feel obligated to explain why they may or may not want to travel, they should keep in mind that honesty and communication can go a long way within the workspace, and there may be resources available to help mitigate any concerns or actual risks to ensure a safe and healthy trip.”

How companies can protect women workers

Companies with travel managers should incorporate these tips to extend support and help ensure compliance, Weisbrod says. "One way that organizations can do this is by updating their education processes for both women business travelers and those who travel with them," she explains.

"Training that focuses on or addresses women travel is important to raise awareness of the unique risks faced by women and it helps to teach employees how to be smart and savvy travelers." For higher-risk countries, she also recommends destination-specific training that also covers cultural and gender issues.

"It is also important to provide female travelers with access to resources so they can conduct their own research on traveling to a certain destination," Weisbrod says. "Also, make all employees aware of the resources that are in place and how to respond if something goes wrong while on a business trip."