NEW YORK — It's lunch hour on a weekday and two women in their 30s are being pampered at the Saks Fifth Avenue beauty salon in Manhattan.
Their nails are sculpted as lunch is sent in.
No, these are not ladies of leisure. They are business women on expense accounts, and this is the new executive power date.
After decades of trying to conform to a man's world in the workplace, women are asserting their differences and want to be catered to, whether that's having skirt hangers in hotel rooms or meetings over mud baths. Both on the road and at headquarters, female executives are exchanging golf outings and steak lunches for museum outings and spa lunches.
Women's top concern on business trips is having responsive service, according to a study of female business travel released Sept. 7 by New York University and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
Hotels and airlines, realizing that women account for 40 percent of business travelers - up from just 1 percent in 1970 - are starting to react.
Delta promotes itself as an airline for women business travelers and maintains a Web site for them. The site has travel tips and articles written by authors and experts who make up its online Travel Advisory Council. Visitors to the site can get coupons from Delta and its partners for discounts on flights, hotel rooms, car rentals - even golf lessons.
Wyndham hotels has established itself as a women-friendly chain. It has a Women Business Travelers Advisory Board, made up of 17 women executives - all of whom are frequent travelers, and who represent a range of industries.
At the advice of the board, they provide Bath & Body Works brand toiletries and have created library lounges where women don't feel like targets for harassment. The hotel's Web site includes special offers, travel tips, a discussion group, and an online book club all aimed at the female business traveler.
Loews Hotels responded to a female focus group by placing healthier snacks in the rooms and a "Did you forget?" closet that stocks items such as panty hose and (for borrowing) earrings and handbags.
Westin Hotels' research found that women want more graciously appointed rooms; the Benjamin in Manhattan offers in-room aromatherapy and a choice of pillows. These offerings are available to both sexes but were inspired by women.
"Women are more perceptive of the extra touches in a room," says Cheryl Boyer, hospitality and leisure analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. "We'll return from a business trip and say, 'Hey, we got this or that in our room!' But when we ask our male counterparts about it they say, 'What are you talking about? We didn't notice or care.' "
Security has long been a concern more of the female solo traveler, and hotels are taking more precautions to keep women safe. Practices like not announcing room numbers at check-in have become standard, and many front-desk clerks are trained to ask women if they prefer a room near the elevator. Several hotels have started to offer jogging partners, who they say provide company as well as security.
On the recreational front, golf is still in full swing. Many women are taking up the game so they don't miss out on networking and deal making.
And employers are encouraging more women to play. Firms like Merrill Lynch and PricewaterhouseCoopers have recently held golf clinics for female managers. The Pebble Beach Golf Academy has started a $3,000 long-weekend course for women executives that combines lessons with seminars on "How and why to use golf for business."
But other women say golf is not for them. "A game doesn't take me four hours, it takes me six. I've stopped playing because I don't have that kind of time," says Jacy Hanson, a director at the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va. What to do instead? "Spas at hotels are becoming a must," says Richard Holtzmann, CEO of Grand Bay Hotels & Resorts based in Phoenix.
Susan Black, a publisher in New York, frequently invites clients to a workout at the posh Reebok Club or an afternoon at a day spa. "You say, 'Do you need a manicure? I'll put it together, we'll go out and make it a thing,' " she says. "It's absolutely coming into vogue and the clients love it. Unfortunately, I don't think the spa thing would work with a woman entertaining a man."
One reason meetings planners are reluctant to put shopping or beautifying on an official agenda is they consider segregating the sexes to be a step backward.
"Companies don't want to discriminate," says Ms. Boyer of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "So if there's a golf outing they [work] to make the women feel welcome, and a 'spa day' would be open for both men and women."
Resources for women business travelers
*Executive Women's Travel Network, sponsored by Delta Air Lines and American Express: www.deltaairlines.com/womenexecs
*Women on their Way, from Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: www.womenbusinesstravelers.com
*iVillage's message board for women business travelers: http://boards1.ivillage.com/messages/get/trbusiness2.html
*The Smart Woman's Guide to Business Travel, by Laurie D. Borman (Career Press).
*The Woman Business Traveler's Guide To Survival, by Erin Farwell, et. al. (TravelSmarts Business Services).
*Asia for Women on Business: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea, by Tracey Wilen, Patricia Wilen (Stone Bridge Press).
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society