Women at Work

Article excerpt

FEMALE EXECUTIVES, like their male counterparts, must frequently travel or live abroad for business. When they do so, they are more at risk than their male peers. A study by the Travel Data Center, for example, found that women represent a disproportionate number of victims of violent crime--especially personal assault. Avon Products, Inc., which markets cosmetics, perfumes, jewelry, and similar products, decided to work toward reducing its employees' risk exposure through a global "Women and Security" program. The program is designed to raise awareness of the dangers of overseas travel and to train female associates to reduce their vulnerability to those dangers so that they can return home safely.

RISK ASSESSMENT. A group of Avon security and human resources representatives started research into the "Women and Security" project in 1996. The author, who is a manager of security for Europe, South Africa, and the company's New York City headquarters, was a member of this team charged with creating the new program.

The program development group began by studying the social, economic, and political issues affecting women who travel and work abroad. To arrive at its conclusions, the group used Internet incident databases maintained by the U.S. Department of State, as well as those of companies such as Kroll & Associates and Transecur. Together, these databases provided Avon with country risk reports, executive country summaries, daily intelligence briefs, travel reports, and travel tips for women. The State Department database is free; others cost an annual subscription fee of between $5,000 and 56,500. The database information was supplemented by interviews with regional security personnel and the female associates who have traveled and worked in high-risk countries.

Avon's development group divided the world into five business regions: Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States. Using the databases, the group then determined the high-risk areas in each region and the importance of the region's business to the company. This allowed the group to pinpoint areas presenting the most danger to both Avon's female travelers and to the company s bottom line. South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, and all of Latin America were ascertained to be areas of the most substantial risk.

South Africa. The development group learned that South Africa has the highest rate of violent crime for any nation not at war. Most crime is found in suburban areas of larger cities and the so-called "black townships." The countryside is safer, but it is home base for multiple tribal and political gangs. Homicides are frequent, half of these occurring in the course of another crime, such as robbery Carjacking is so common that many people will not stop at traffic lights. Rallies and demonstrations, which are commonplace in today's South Africa, can also give rise to violent incidents.

Of special concern to female travelers is South Africa's level of sexual assaults, which is among the highest in the world. While no reliable statistics are available, it is estimated by agencies inside the nation that a million women are raped each year.

Sexual harassment is also widespread, despite newly enacted laws to ensure equal rights for women.

The Philippines. The Philippines has seen a recent marked increase in crime, especially in larger cities like Manila. The most common crimes include mugging and pickpocketing, burglary, and robbery Foreigners are favored targets.

Some rural areas are occupied by bandit gangs, guerrilla groups, and private armies. Kidnapping has become a criminal industry on the southern island of Mindanao, and increasingly, in Manila. Ethnic Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese are primary targets of the kidnappers, as are children of wealthy families. However, as those target groups have become more security-conscious, kidnappers have switched their attention to non-Asian business people. …

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