Qatar Airways CEO suggests that women aren't suited to lead an airline

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker at an IATA press briefing.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker at an IATA press briefing. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

SYDNEY -- Shortly after assuming the position of chairman of the IATA board of governors Tuesday, outspoken Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker joked at press briefing that the most important thing he could do in his new role was to try and control his tendency to make controversial statements.

Less than 10 minutes later, Al Baker's loose tongue got the best of him.

Asked by a reporter about the lack of women in leadership positions at Middle East airlines, Al Baker began to explain that Qatar has lots of women employees when the reporter cut him off to point out that the airline is led by him -- a man.

"Of course, it's led by a man, because it's a very challenging position," Al Baker responded.

The comment was greeted by a combination of jeers and laughter. But a few minutes later Al Baker took a more diplomatic approach to the topic, saying that Qatar was the first Middle Eastern carrier to have a staff comprised of more than 33% women. Qatar's female employees include pilots, engineers and reach as high as the senior vice president level. "So, we actually encourage women and we see that they have huge potential in senior management positions," he said.

Al Baker will serve as IATA chairman for a year. He drew fire last summer when he called U.S. flight attendants "grandmothers" and told an audience that Qatar flight attendants, in contrast, average just 26 years of age.

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