Qatar Airways CEO says a woman can’t do his job

Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al-Baker courted controversy at this week's International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting by saying his job as head of the airline could only be done by a man.

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 was also the first to employ female pilots and one of the first to train female engineers, al Baker said, adding that several ranking positions within the company, including Senior Vice President, are held by women.

The chief executive of Qatar Airways, who sits on the board of Heathrow airport, has inflamed a row over sexism in the airline industry by saying only a man could do his challenging job.

Though Al Baker's remarks prompted disapproval during the news conference, he's far from the first senior executive to find himself under fire for such statements.

"There's a possibility, yes, that it could continue again", Al Baker said on Tuesday.

The admission was made only a few minutes after Mr Al Baker was named chairman of the IATA board of governors, a male-dominated sphere in aviation.

Only about 3 per cent of commercial pilots and fewer than 5 percent of airline chief executives are women, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body that has been campaigning to improve gender diversity in the airline industry.

Promises by the global airline industry to do more to promote gender equality veered off course when one of its top executives suggested his CEO role was too hard for a woman. Qantas Airways Ltd.'s senior management is 40 per cent female, including the heads of the global and frequent-flier loyalty businesses, CEO Alan Joyce said.

Not only is diversity a competitive advantage, Joyce said, "It's the right business thing to do and it's the right moral thing to do".

Al Baker said he wanted to have "fireworks around" to motivate people to ask questions during the press briefing, even as the room erupted with noise.

He later attempted to walk back his statement, claiming that he was "only referring to one individual" and that he would welcome a woman as his successor.

"It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me", he told Bloomberg. "It's taken 40 years to get to 10%", he said.

  • Eleanor Harrison