This airline chief says women can’t do his “challenging” job

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Susan Devaney
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Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, ignites sexism row after making controversial comments. 

Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways who sits on the board of Heathrow, has openly said only a man could take on the task of his challenging job.

Making the comments at a press conference in Sydney, Al Baker made the comment after becoming chair of the aviation industry body’s board of governors for a one-year term, Bloomberg News reports.

After being asked what could be done to tackle the lack of women in Middle East aviation, Al Baker replied there wasn’t an issue at Qatar Airways, before adding: “Of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”

According to Bloomberg, the comment was met by groans of disapproval from a room of journalists. 

Al Baker has run Qatar Airways since 1997

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, only 6.3% of 96,000 commercial pilots were women in the USA in 2016.

Qatar Airways later issued a formal statement from Al Baker, who has run the airline since 1997. 

“While I am known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences, it is crucial that I emphasise the facts as I did today and the importance of women representatives in the airline industry,” he said.

“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. With a female work force of more than 33%, as I mentioned today, it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways.”

After the government called for companies with over 250 employees to publish a gender pay gap report, issues were highlighted in the airline sector in the UK. EasyJet’s median hourly rate for women was 46% lower than for men, and Ryanair’s was 72% lower. 

You can read more on the gender pay gap here.

Images: Unsplash / Getty 


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.