Business travel isn’t the same experience for men and women. You’ve got all the normal discomforts and risks of business travel that everyone experiences, then another layer of risks and worries like the kind that Erin Spencer recounts as she attended this year’s HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

Monday. I’ve got my bags packed, and I’m ready to fly to Las Vegas for the HR Technology Conference. I kiss my husband goodbye, he tells me to have a great time, do well on my Pitchfest judging, and he hopes the presentation of our Survey data goes well. Then, he reminds me to be careful and to not leave any drinks unattended because men will slip stuff into your drink. I have dinner planned with some of my favorite friends, giving the male of the group a big hug. The last time I saw and hugged him, a woman in the audience commented about “that’s not allowed anymore.” Big takeaways from dinner: data is discoverable and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is a health and safety issue, not a culture fit.

Tuesday. One of the best events at the HR Technology Conference is the Women in HR Technology session. It’s before the conference officially starts and a morning of amazing speakers and powerful information, but it requires being away from home and arranging childcare for one more day of the week. The keynote speaker, Rita Mitjans, discusses microaggressions as reasons women don’t move up the corporate ladder, and I think back to the time my boss told me to keep my opinions quiet in a meeting and if I had something to add I could bring it up to her after the meeting had ended because no one else needed to hear my opinions during meetings. That situation was slightly more uncomfortable than the day at a previous organization when the HR Manager called me into his office to ask if I’d be willing to continue to do my current job but move to the reception desk to answer the main phone line and be the greeter because they were firing the current female receptionist, but needed a body in that seat. Although I was able to leave both jobs fairly quickly, and never did stop sharing my thoughts or sit at the receptionists desk, I was pregnant during both job searches and most definitely uncomfortable bringing up the fact that I’d be expecting to take some sort of time off after giving birth because I was afraid it would reflect poorly on me during the hiring process.

photo of Erin Spencer Sierra-Cedar and HRExaminer

Erin Spencer, Senior Research Analyst at Sierra-Cedar and HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Wednesday. I’ve attended three vendor cocktail receptions, kept an eye on my drink the entire time, and been sociable. I run into a friend (female) and we’re both debating the merits of attending another party—one we’ve both been invited to, but is off site and it’s already 10:00 p.m. I’m still adjusting to the time change, and I’m sure she’s ready to go to bed because she has little kids at home, but she floats the idea of attending and I rally because I’m not going to let a friend go to a party by herself. Girl Code 101, don’t leave your friends! I’m relieved when she says she’s done for the evening. We ride up on the elevator together, a man gets off on my floor, I consider turning down the wrong hallway so I don’t lead him to my room, but that’s the direction he goes and I’m relieved when I’m safely in my room alone. I remember to lock and flip the extra bolt for the door.

Thursday. The previous night, I ran into a friend (male) and we decide to meet up for breakfast. I’m waiting for him outside of one of the restaurants on Restaurant Row. I’m wearing a black knee length skirt, pink shirt, flats, and a black blazer. It’s 7:15 a.m. Two younger men come by, they’re obviously drunk, and one starts making comments about how fiiiiine I look this morning; I’m relieved when they keep on walking and even more relieved when my breakfast companion shows up. I relate this story to a friend once I’m home, and her reaction was why were you having breakfast alone with a man?

Friday. I attend the marvelous presentation by Kate Bischoff and Heather Bussing on Data, Bias, and Artificial Intelligence. The three of us, joined by other powerhouse analyst women, sit around a table after the session and recount tales of sexual assault, harassment, and how the law and people in positions of power fail women. It’s comforting to know that none of us are alone, but horrifying to think about the pain so many have experienced.

I share a cab to the airport with Kate, enjoy uneventful flights home, and land in Cleveland just after midnight. While riding that elevator to the parking garage, a man gets on and exits on my floor—but I’ve parked at the closest spot to the elevator that wasn’t a handicap spot, so I’m reasonably sure I can sprint to my car and get there before him if he wants to attack me. He heads off in a different direction and I drive home. I wake up the next morning, take my daughter to the zoo to spend the day with her Girl Scout Daisy Troop, and simultaneously wonder if the experiences of these girls as they enter the workplace in the next decade will be any different than mine and how to prepare her for the day when she too will need to hold her car keys in her hand like a weapon while she heads to her car in the parking garage.

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