The chief executive of Qatar Airways and newly elected International Air Transport Association (IATA) chair has sparked controversy after saying his job could only be done by a man.
And he just lost himself an invite to the Women in Travel Awards.
Or was he ever invited? Probably not, TBH. Because this event is about making sure women are treated equally – and given equal leadership opportunities.
Speaking at IATA’s annual meeting in Sydney, where gender equality was a big theme for this year, Akbar Al Baker was asked what could be done to tackle the lack of women in Middle East aviation.
The Guardian reports Al Baker responded by first saying this was not the case at Qatar, but then added:
“Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.”
Que groans and gasps from nearly all present.
Whilst the travel industry is filled to the brim with powerful women, comments like these make events like our Women in Travel Awards all the more important.
In less than a month, these awards will celebrate women in our industry – and the men that are championing change as we speak.
Alan Joyce, the gay chief executive of Qantas Airways and literal ray of sunshine was seated next to Al Baker at the time tried to lighten the mood.
“Akbar said he was going to stop saying controversial things. He lasted 10 minutes – 10 minutes,” he said, according to SBS.
“Is that all we’re going to get out of him. Ten minutes. Sorry, Akbar.”
The audible gasp from the crowd as @qatarairways GCEO and @IATA Chairman Akbar Al Baker "jokes" only a man can be a CEO is amazing. Listen for yourself. @Qantas CEO Alan Joyce cutting him off was both good and bad, I suppose. #IATAAGM #iawa @WomenInAviation @WomenOfAviation pic.twitter.com/rrrFND3G5E
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 5, 2018
Joyce also said having a diverse workforce could help drive profits, according to the BBC.
“If you get the best talent, the best people, the best jobs you’re going to perform better,” Joyce said.
As per the Guardian, a formal statement later issued by the airline from Al Baker, who has run the airline since 1997, said that while he is known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences, it is crucial to emphasise the facts as he did today and the importance of women representatives in the airline industry.
“Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace and our airline has been a pioneer in our region in this regard, as the first airline to employ female pilots, as one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and with females represented through to senior vice president positions within the airline.”
“With a female workforce of more than 33 per cent, as I mentioned today, it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways.”
Uuuum ok, buddy. We’re sure female candidates would do just fine without your guidance.
To the airline’s credit, it also released an amended statement deleting the last paragraph and replacing it with this one:
“Qatar Airways is made stronger by its female employees for whom I hold nothing but the highest regard. I support all IATA initiatives to promote the advancement of women in our industry, and I am a strong advocate for these and will continue to be moving forward.”
The carrier has gained itself a reputation for the treatment of its mainly female cabin crew, even firing them for being pregnant.
Al Baker has also come under fire for referring to US flight attendants as ‘grandmothers’, saying the average age of Qatar Airways crew was 26, reports the BBC.
He was later forced to apologise for his sexist AND ageist comments.
IATA director Alexandre de Juniac later admitted only two women sat on its 31-member board of governors, said the Guardian, referring to Christine Ourmières, the CEO of UK regional carrier FlyBe and Maria Jose Hidalgo Gutierrez, the CEO of Spanish airline Air Europa.
Juniac said this reflected the industry, which has only three per cent female chief executives. Meaning that even in 2018, more steps need to be taken to ensure women are given literally just equal rights.
“We don’t underestimate the scope of work needed to address the gender challenge— covering process, policy and mindset,” he said.
“A combination of individual action by airlines and collective action as industry will move us in the right direction.”