The boss of Qatar Airways has been forced to apologise after he publicly claimed his job would be, wait for it… too difficult for a woman.
The comment came on Tuesday during the International Air Transport Association’s annual conference in Sydney, at which the industry’s gender imbalance was a key theme.
When asked by a journalist what could be done about the under representation of women leading in Middle Eastern airlines like his, Akbar al-Baker responded: “Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”.
It remains unclear precisely what, in the CEO’s eyes, disqualifies 49.558 per cent of the population from effectively fulfilling his very, erm, tricky and important job. (It’s probably periods or babies. It’s always seems to be periods or babies.)
Regardless, the remark attracted international headlines, prompting al-Baker to resort to the classic foot-in-mouth defence: “It was just a joke,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “Everybody laughed. I thought that was the end of the story.”
But strangely enough, that didn’t cut it. In a subsequent statement on Wednesday the airline boss tried a different tack: fingerpointing.
“I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies for any offence 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 sensationalised by the media,” he said, according to BBC.
“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 reporting directly to me.”
It’s not the first time the airline boss has attracted controversy. In 2017, he apologised “unreservedly” after calling US flight attendants “grandmothers”, while noting that the average age of Qatar Airlines cabin crew was 26.
Still back-peddling over his latest display of sexism, al-Baker told Bloomberg he’d be happy to train a woman up for his role: “It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me.”
Just curious, al-Bakar, when will your position might be available? Might we suggest now?