Sometimes it feels like for every step forward we take towards gender equality, we also take one step back. Sexism is still alive and well in this world, and it affects women in the workplace all too often. Case in point, the (male) CEO of Qatar Airways recently said that his position is too difficult for a woman.
HuffPost reported that yesterday, June 4th, at the International Air Transportation Association’s (IATA) annual conference, Akbar Al Baker stunned the crowd when answering a question about the lack of women in high-powered roles in airlines, especially in the Middle East. Al Baker initially dismissed the question, claiming that gender inequality was not an issue for Qatar Airways.
The reporter probed further, asking, “Well, certainly it’s being run by a man?”
Al Baker tried to backpedal, telling Bloomberg after the news conference that he “was only referring to one individual” and not “the staff in general.” He continued the interview with Bloomberg by noting that 44% of Qatar Airways’ employees are women, some of them pilots and vice presidents. Al Baker also reiterated that there is no gender inequality at the company. He even stated that he would be happy to “have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me.”
Later, in a statement issued by the company, Al Baker attempted to write his sexist comment off as a joke.
Even if Al Baker’s comments were genuinely a (distasteful) joke, gender disparity remains a huge problem among airlines. According to The Guardian, there are only two women on IATA’s 31-person board of governors (of which Al Baker is now chairman), and just 3% of airlines have female CEOs. Fortune reported in 2017 that 6.4% of all CEOs were women.
Let’s be clear: Gender does not affect your ability to do a good job, and we sincerely hope that Al Baker will refrain from “joking” about female CEOs ever again.