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Donna Block, president of Lux Communities, poses for a photo at her office on Friday, Jan. 31 in Fargo. N.D. Block travels for business several times throughout the year and said from her observations more women are traveling for business nowadays. According to national statistics, she is right in her observations. Image: Eric Hylden/Prairie Business

Women on the move

The number of women who travel for business is on the rise

Image by Eric Hylden/Prairie Business

Donna Block travels several times a month for business. Sometimes it’s a day trip, other times it’s an overnighter. But traveling for work helps break up the monotony of sitting in an office all day.

The business trips are productive and allow her to get out of town for a day or two. But, depending on how far she travels and how long she’ll be away, they are not without some challenges. 

As a single mom and president of a property management company, Block has to make sure her young child is taken care of and that the home office is on track while she’s away. The load isn’t lessened when she returns and has to fill everything else on her plate, both in the office and at home.

“It’s definitely a balancing act,” said Block, president of Lux Communities in Fargo.

But she enjoys her business trips and knows she’s not the only one juggling a balancing act. From what Block has witnessed, she believes more women are traveling for work purposes than just a few years ago. Technology may help bridge the gap in some instances, but it’s not the same as getting in front of a client.

“We are becoming a more global community and people are not just staying in town where they work,” she said. “We are all connected much more than we were in the past. Webcams are great, but it’s even better to connect with people face to face.”

Much of that personable interaction happens between businesswomen and their clients, not only at the home office but with in-person visits to other cities and states. 

“As women continue to progress in their careers it will allow for even more travel,” she said.

Travel trends and risks 

Block is right: the number of women who travel for business is trending upward, according to national statistics. But the trend is not without some risks.

According to the Global Business Travel Association, more than half of business travel programs (53%) have a higher percentage of female business travelers than just three to five years ago.

“A lot more women are going into these types of professions where there’s a higher percentage of travel,” said Mark Sharoff, senior research analysts with GBTA, based in Washington, D.C. He said finance, consulting, and oil and gas companies typically have a higher ratio of employees who travel. Typically it has been senior employees who do most of the traveling for companies, not newcomers to a given profession; but that is changing with the millennial generation, Sharoff said, as more young people enter the workforce. That in itself might throw some new dynamics into the mix, as the younger generation tends to work and travel differently than traditionalists. More video conferencing, for instance, may further replace travel incentives. 

For those who continue to travel for work purposes, however, women are competing with men. 

“For the vast majority of my career I’ve been in a fairly male-dominated field. ... There weren't a lot of women in the room, wherever you went,” said business owner and marketing specialist Melissa Goodman. “I've seen that change dramatically, particularly probably in the last five to seven years.”

The downside is that women (69%) face greater physical risks than men (31%).

About one-third of travel managers (31%) say their companies are more focused on “providing a safe workplace for female employees,” according to the GBTA report, but far fewer (21%) say their businesses have revisited their travel programs.

The percent of travel managers concerned for their female globetrotters include: traveling to certain countries and citites (82%), sexual harassment/assault (75%), assault or kidnapping (73%), destination-specific gender-related norms (67%), gender-specific health risks (65%) or public transporation (64%).

Block, who mostly travels to cities in both the Dakotas and in Minnesota, said she has not experienced anything she has deemed unsafe or uncomfortable, but she is aware of her surroundings and uses safety practices while away from home.

Goodman, a business owner who originally hails from North Dakota but now lives in Wisconsin, said much the same thing. 

“I think it comes down to awareness,” she said. “I've been very aware (of potential risks) since I started traveling in my early 20s – that I am I alone am responsible for my own safety. You don't have to be afraid, but that doesn't mean you should have your head in the sand about what's possible.”

Travel might be better with a colleague but that’s not always possible. More women are traveling by themselves, whether it’s behind the wheel on day trips or taking flights to other states or countries. But being alone doubles the risks, for men as well as women, and Goodman said she takes extra precautions to notice her surroundings when traveling, whether it’s in a hotel or on the street, walking or driving in a car. She reminds herself to make sure doors are locked, her purse is secured, and keys are tucked away so no one else can grab them.

“I think with anything there are always risks,” she said, “but your personal self awareness does a good job of mitigating those risks.”

Busybodies at home and in the workplace

Goodman is managing partner of Full Tilt Marketing, a virtual agency that specializes in marketing food. She works out of the comfort of her home in Milwaukee, but travels from Wisconsin to North Dakota where she also works as the marketing and communications manager for the International Peace Garden, located on the North Dakota-Canada border. 

Other trips include New York and other points east. She travels so much, in fact, that she hasn’t taken a day off from work in more than a year. When she is home she tries to cram her schedule with family and friends, which highlights another challenge.

“The challenges of travel aren't the challenges of traveling itself, per se, as much as it is the time away from home,” she said. “I don't have kids but it's the time away from my spouse or my friends or other things that I want to do. It's finding a way to balance that work when you're on the road, yet the work at home doesn't stop, whether that's in your job or in your business or even in your home. 

“I mean, the laundry still needs to get done and the house needs to get cleaned and you may have obligations within your volunteer organization or even among your friends. Sometimes you get home and you’re tired and maybe you don't want to go out for dinner that night; but then for me it’s like, ‘wow, I haven't seen my friends in awhile.’ I don't want to be a terrible person, and so I work that in, too.”

For Block, work doesn’t end when she gets home from a business trip. Not only does her young child need her attention, but there usually are other business projects on her plate to look into or loose ends to wrap up. While both women keep extremely busy, the challenges of juggling so much is lessened by their planning.

As Goodman explained, there’s a difference in the way women plan and schedule their business trips versus how men might do it.

“I think women are better about deciding how much they're going to be home,” Goodman said. “A man might be willing to take a much longer trip, maybe four or five days on the road at a time. He might be willing to leave on a Monday morning and not get back until Friday night. I think a lot of times women make choices and say, ‘How can I cram as much as possible even if it's going to make those couple of days really crazy?’ because oftentimes they have families to get back home to and kids’ activities to attend to. I think women have to be a little more organized in their planning and how they go about it.”

Traveling and the glamorous life

Palm trees and gentle ocean waves may look attractive on a postcard or social media post, but those kinds of trips or more suited for personal or family vacations than business trips - at least they’re not the kind of business trips with which Block or Goodman are familiar.

“Traveling is not nearly as glamorous as people think it is,” Goodman said. “But at the same time, it is also what you make of it.”

Sometimes a flight might be delayed, there might be problems with a rental car, a hotel wasn’t as nice as expected, weather might hamper travel. And then there’s the airport crowds and security lines, the traffic and navigating in an unfamiliar city. 

And of course the appointments and business meetings. 

The dividend is in the successful business transactions that may have taken place with a client or the new marketing strategy that was promoted, Block said. 

Still, Goodman said if she can arrange it, she tries to visit a museum or art gallery or something else unique to the area. It might be something as simple as finding a unique local restaurant.

Challenges and risks – those come as part of life, she said. Her focus is to live the life she’s been given and make the most of each situation by filling her time with positive experiences, which include her many business trips. 

“There's always something if you want to just embrace the world and the opportunity you've been given,” she said. 

Prairie Business Editor Andrew Weeks may be reached at aweeks@prairiebusinessmagazine.com or 701-780-1276 | @PB_AndrewWeeks