Qatar Airways faces backlash after CEO dismisses female leadership

Never one to avoid controversy, Akbar al Baker put his foot in his
mouth—ankle deep—when asked how to address gender inequality in air travel.

The chief executive for Qatar Airways has a history of making unfortunate
comments; he had quipped minutes earlier that one of his new roles as
chairman of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was to “be
less controversial.”



Reuters
reported:

Asked about the issue among Middle East airlines in particular, and why his
job as head of his country’s flag carrier couldn’t be done by a woman,
outspoken Qatar Airways Chief Executive, Akbar al Baker, gave a typically
provocative answer.

“Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging
position,” he said, drawing gasps from those present. It was not clear
whether he was serious or trying to make a joke.

It would seem that al Baker knew he had misspoken, because he went on to
highlight ways the Persian Gulf carrier has promoted women in the
workplace.

Reuters continued:

He later said Qatar Airways was the first carrier in the region to have
female pilots and the company had women in senior roles.

“So we actually encourage women. We see that they have huge potential in
doing senior management positions,” he said.


The Guardian
reported:

Later, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, he said more than a third of
Qatar Airways staff were female, including pilots and senior
vice-presidents. He added there was no gender inequality at the Gulf
carrier, which has a close business partnership with British Airways. Qatar
is also the largest single shareholder in BA’s parent company, IAG.

Asked whether he would welcome a female executive as chief executive, Al
Baker, who has run Qatar Airways since 1997, said: “It will be my pleasure
to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after
me.”

Al Baker tried to diminish the scope of his comments.

[FREE GUIDE: 3 things you (probably) didn’t know about crisis communications]

Bloomberg reported:

“I was only referring to one individual,” he said. “I was not referring to
the staff in general.”

Qatar Airways staff are more than 33 percent female, he said. The carrier
has female pilots and female senior vice presidents, he said. There’s no
gender inequality in Qatar Airways, he said.

The Guardian
offered some context, as well:

Qatar Airways has long had an abysmal reputation for
its treatment of its predominantly female cabin crew, at one time firing them for being pregnant.

The airline is believed to have eased some restrictions on the movement of
its crew during non-working hours, which have included curfews, living in
monitored accommodation and contractual bans on marriage without express
company permission.

Journalists, meanwhile, noted al Baker’s history of questionable remarks.

The BBC reported:

It’s not the first time that the Qatar Airways boss has sparked
controversy.

Last year, Mr Baker was forced to apologised “unreservedly” for his
unflattering description of US flight attendants as “grandmothers”. In
contrast, he had said the average age of Qatar Airways cabin crews was 26
in comments criticised as both sexist and ageist.

He made his most recent jarring remarks at the annual meeting of the IATA,
which had made gender inclusion a major issue at this year’s summit.

The BBC continued:

Alan Joyce, the gay chief executive of Qantas Airways who campaigned for
marriage equality in Australia, had sat next to Mr Baker at a session on
the topic.

Mr Joyce said that having a diverse workforce could help drive profits.

“If you get the best talent, the best people, the best jobs you’re going to
perform better,” he added.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways-owner IAG, said the
industry needed to attract more women and that progress had been slow.

“Aer Lingus recruited its first female pilot in 1977… It’s taken 40 years
to get to 10%,” he said.

Despite other positive and progressive statements from airline industry
insiders, al Baker’s comments drew the most attention from reporters and
social media users.

What do you think of Al Baker’s comments—and his attempts to mitigate the
damage?

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