Wait until you hear what this airline's CEO said about women taking his job some day. Qatar Airways CEO said only a man could do it. And worse, the CEO, Akbar Al Baker, said this after being named chairman of the International Air Transport Association’s board of governors — at their annual meeting, where growing diversity was a big theme.
"Of course it has to be led by a man," Al Baker told reporters, before adding his reason why: "because it is a very challenging position."
There were reportedly "loud groans of disapproval" from many reporters in the room. The IATA meeting was held in Sydney, Australia, and Al Baker will serve as chairman for one year.
After the press conference, Al Baker, tried to backtrack in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "I was only referring to one individual," he told Bloomberg's Haidi Lun. "I was not referring to the staff in general."
He also said that the airline has women pilots and women vice presidents; some 33 percent of its staff are women. "So we actually encourage women. We see that they have huge potential in doing senior management positions," Al Baker told Bloomberg. The CEO also later added that he would like to train a woman to replace him. "It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me," Al Baker added.
Before Al Baker's foot-in-mouth answer, the CEO of Qantas, the Australian flag carrier, spoke on panels pushing for more diversity in the airline industry. Alan Joyce, who is openly gay, says that it gives a competitive advantage. Some 40 percent of Qantas' leadership are women. "It’s the right business thing to do and it’s the right moral thing to do," Joyce told Bloomberg.
The IATA board took a group photo earlier in the week and just one of the 26 pictured was a woman. That would be Christine Ourmières-Widener, the CEO of the U.K.'s Flybe. They operate mostly regional flights within and from the U.K. to Ireland and Europe.
Al Baker's airline has not been doing well as of late, CNN reported, and it might take more than a woman to save it. The current reason it is still in business has mostly to do with its status as a government-owned airline.
The country's neighbors have been boycotting it and cut off all transport and diplomatic ties last June. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt recalled their citizens from Qatar and gave Qataris just 14 days to leave. That means potential customers from these neighboring countries are flying a different airline. Qatar Airways has also had to alter some of its routes due to airspace limitations.
These countries accuse the Qatari government of supporting terrorism and working to destabilize the region. Qatar denies the allegations.
But Al Baker hasn't had many problems with the airline thanks to one thing. "We are owned by the government, we are funded by the government," he told CNN. "Eventually if this continues and my operation costs keep on mounting the government will have to come and support Qatar Airways."
Al Baker's words about being an airline CEO isn't necessarily reflective of the entire International Air Transport Association — even if its board is predominantly men. Their hiring is progressive, with benefits that can help a diverse workplace such as parental leave, adoption leave, and more.
Qatar Airways could follow the lead of Qantas and the airline alliance SkyTeam. The alliance has just tapped a woman to be its new CEO. Former Delta executive Kristin Colvile has more than 20 years experience in the business.