Qatar Airways boss faces furious backlash over sexist comments

Qatar Airways boss faces furious backlash over sexist comments

The airline industry is notoriously dominated by men. (Think about it. Have you ever had a female pilot?) So, at the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Sydney, Australia, improving diversity was a major theme. "If you get the best talent, the best people, the best jobs you’re going to perform better," said Alan Joyce, the gay GEO of Qantas Airlines. He argued that a diverse workforce can increase profits, reflecting, "I think one of the reasons Qantas turned it around so dramatically is that we’ve embraced diversity."

However, Akbar Al Baker, chair of the IATA and chief executive of Qatar Airways, really put his foot in his mouth. When asked about gender inequality on Middle East airlines, he said his job could only be done by a man. "Of course it has to be led by a man," said Al Baker. "It is a very challenging position." The provocative comment drew loud gasps and groans from the crowd. It is unclear if he was serious or joking. (It is also unclear how having a dong makes you a better CEO.)

The sexist comment sparked outrage, for obvious reasons. So, Al Baker issued a statement to apologize, and defended Qatar Airways' track record on gender equality.

"I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies for any offense caused by my comment yesterday, which runs counter to my track record of expanding the role of women in leadership throughout the Qatar Airways Group and has been sensationalized by the media...

"While I am known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences, it is crucial that I emphasize the facts as I did today and the importance of women representatives in the airline industry... Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace and our airline has been a pioneer in our region in this regard, as the first airline to employ female pilots, as one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and with females represented through to senior vice president positions within the airline...

"It would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways."

This isn't the first time the Qatar CEO has made controversial comments. During a speech at a dinner in Ireland last year, he called U.S. airlines "crap." He went on describe U.S. flight attendants as "grandmothers," and boasted that the average age of Qatar Airways cabin crews was 26. These comments were condemned as sexist and ableist.

"Qatar Airways thrives on misogyny and discrimination," said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which has 50,000 members from 20 airlines. "When there's an emergency on board, a flight attendant's gender, age, weight, height, race or sexuality simply do not matter. What matters is effective safety and security training, along with experience on the job."

Al Baker apologized for his "careless" remark, claiming it did not reflect his "true sentiments." But considering his most recent sexist remark, that's hard to believe.