“Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”
These were the actual words spoken at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday by the CEO of Qatar Airlines, Akbar Al Baker, when asked about the issue of gender equality in aviation in the middle east.
Al Baker, who had literally moments before just been appointed as the chair of the International Air Transport Association’s board of governors, denied that gender was an issue before adding his view that his own position could only be filled by a man.
Unsurprisingly his remark drew audible gasps and laughter from the room at the time and has since sparked global condemnation.
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
It’s unclear from the audio whether he was joking. In a statement from Qatar Airlines released on Tuesday Al Baker said he is often “light-hearted” in press conferences.
On Wednesday morning at the annual IATA conference he said he believed the press had taken his comments out of context.
Considering that just 3% of commercial pilots and fewer than 5% of airline chief executives worldwide are women, it seems odd to find any context in which gender is not a significant issue. And even odder to ‘joke’ about it.
It’s worth noting that the conference at which Al Baker was speaking also featured a session on promoting gender equality in the industry. (One might not find it difficult to hazard a guess at some of the obstacles women in aviation face).
— Kevin – Economy Class & Beyond (@EconomyBeyond) June 5, 2018
Whether he was joking or not this not Al Baker’s first foray into the realm of making unashamedly sexist comments.
In 2017 he apologised for describing American air hostesses as “grandmothers” by way of contrast with Qatar Airways hosts who he said were, on average, age 26.
Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker’s remarks stir up gender debate https://t.co/FIMNiWBIOB
— Financial Times (@FT) June 5, 2018
In an interview with Bloomberg TV after the press conference Al Baker said he would be delighted to welcome a female CEO.
“It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me,” he told Haidi Lun.
If he is serious about that he might want to work on his material. Even ‘joking’ that women aren’t up for the challenge of running an airline perpetuates a falsity that simply enables the industry to remain dominated by male leaders. When it comes from the chair of a global peak body? The effect is amplified.
Carolyn McCann’s record at the helm of EasyJet obliterates the idea that women can’t run airlines.
Dame Carolyn McCall was CEO of Easyjet between 2010 and 2018:
– share price quadrupled
– passenger numbers grew almost every year
– market share grew from 7% to 15%
– voted most admired leader in Britain 2 years in a row
So STFU Akbar Al Baker!https://t.co/N2b0dxCJKB
— Florian Ederer (@florianederer) June 5, 2018