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Qatar Airways’ Al Baker’s disgusting ‘sexist’ comments

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It is difficult to believe that in the 21st century, with so much emphasis on gender equality in the workplace, women are so vastly under-represented in the aviation and aerospace sectors.

While women are very visible in customer service and administrative roles, around two-thirds of ticketing and sales personnel are female. Behind the closed doors of the cockpits, the hangars and the boardrooms, it is a very different story.

The number of women in ‘non-traditional’ roles such as pilots and engineers, exposes a very uneven balance of men and women in the workplace, which exists right the way up to board level.

According to Women in Aviation, International, in the US 6.6 per cent of women are pilots and just 2.2 per cent are female mechanics and, in Canada, statistics show that just 5.2 per cent of licensed aeroplane pilots are women.

This issue came to the fore last week at the just concluded International Air Transport Association (IATA) 74th Annual General Meeting (AGM) when the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al-Baker told the crowd of international journalists and top members of IATA that that women could not run airlines such as Qatar Airways or any other successful airlines.

He told reporters, in reference to Qatar Airways, “of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.”

He subsequently backtracked and apologised for saying his company “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position” — his original answer to a question about the lack of gender diversity in the airline industry.

Al-Baker’s response, which came shortly after being elected chairman of the industry trade group at its annual meeting in Australia, was met with loud boos, jeers and groans.

The situation led to a rowdy session and one could visibly see how uncomfortable the DG/CEO of IATA, Alexandre de Junaic and members of his team were when the Qatar CEO made his uncharitable and disgusting comments.

Al-Baker’s comments work against efforts to increase the number of women not only as pilots, but also in senior management positions in an industry where they have been traditionally under-represented.

Comments such as this are very damaging to other regional carriers such as Emirates. Not only does it set the UAE back, but also for the company, the brand perception and the employees’ perception – what are the other people in the company going to think when they read that?”

He has now joined the ranks of corporate bosses who have dismissed efforts to improve gender diversity and close the gap in pay and employment between men and women.

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