SYDNEY -- The aviation industry suffers from a dearth of
women in top executive positions. But while industry executives say the
shortfall is on their radar, they also assert that it can't be resolved
"It's going to take a long time to fix some of the
issues that are inherent in our society," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said at
IATA's Annual General Meeting here last week.
The issue of the under-representation of women in airline
management took center stage at the worldwide gathering of executives after
IATA posted a photo of its board of governors on Twitter on the first night of
its three-day conference.
The photo featured 25 men and just one woman: Christine
Ourmieres-Widener, CEO of the regional European carrier Flybe.
IATA's board of governors is made up entirely of airline
Comments posted in response to the tweeted photo generally
made note of the hard-to-miss gender imbalance.
"Can I humbly suggest that someone puts 'how we achieve
greater gender diversity amongst senior management in aviation' on the agenda,'"
one commenter wrote.
According to IATA, just 3% of airline CEOs are women. Nor is
the situation much better when it comes to other top leadership positions in
the industry. Women hold just 8% of CFO posts and 3% of COO positions.
In all three of those roles, women are less represented than
they are in other industries. For example, 12% of CEOs overall are women.
Overall, women hold just 16% of senior executive posts at
North American airlines, and that's better than carriers in the world's other
regions are faring. In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, women hold just 7%
of senior executive posts.
Air Namibia CEO Mandi Samson (left), one of Africa's three female airline CEOs, and Mylene Scholnick, a consultant at ICF Aviation and a past president of the International Aviation Women's Association, take part in a panel discussion moderated by CNN's Andrew Stevens at IATA's Annual General Meeting.
IATA isn't blind to the issue. In 2016, the organization
launched a diversity initiative designed to bring more women onto its executive
team. And the subject of diversity within the broader airline industry was
already among the panel topics slated for the general meeting prior to the
ruckus caused by the Twitter photo.
Still, concerns about gender inequality didn't stop IATA
from moving ahead Tuesday with the appointment of Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker to
hold its rotating chairman post for the next 12 months. Al Baker, who last
summer had to apologize for calling U.S. flight attendants "grandmothers"
while comparing them with Qatar's flight attendants, whose average age is 26,
said in his first news conference as chairman that women are not up to the task
of being CEOs. He later apologized.
Sitting next to him, IATA director general Alexandre de
Juniac noted that the new IATA board now has two women with the addition of Air
Europa CEO Maria Jose Hidalgo Gutierrez. It's not enough, de Juniac said, but
it's progress nonetheless.
Women have won a few other halting victories at the top of
the commercial airline industry in recent weeks. During the IATA general
meeting, the SkyTeam alliance named as its CEO Kristin Colville, formerly an
executive with Delta's cargo unit. Last month, the United Continental board
made former FAA administrator Jane Garvey its first female chair. Also last
month, JetBlue promoted Joanna Geraghty to president, putting her in charge of
Speaking on a discussion panel at the IATA meeting, Air
Namibia CEO Mandi Samson, who is one of Africa's three female airline CEOs,
said that to bring broader changes, airlines need to focus on supporting women
more, especially when it comes to disciplines such as piloting and engineering,
which have traditionally been dominated my men.
"We really have to make sure to promote women in the
technical areas," Samson said.
Mylene Scholnick, a consultant at ICF Aviation and a past president
of the International Aviation Women's Association, said that in her 25 years in
the industry she's seen improvement on the issue of gender equality, but it
hasn't come fast enough.
Airlines, she said as she shared the stage with Samson, need
to be more proactive in mentoring women, supporting women during maternity and
encouraging women to return to their careers after they have taken a leave to
Qantas' Joyce said that it's up to each company to put
programs in place that encourage women to stay in the workplace after they have
Forty percent of Qantas directors are now female, Joyce
said, due to efforts the airline has made to embrace diversity. Drawing from a
large pool has enabled the carrier to excel, Joyce said.
"If you are not tapping into diversity and inclusion,
you are going to lose out," he warned.