- Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker said his company must be led by a man because it is a “very challenging job.”
- It elicited boos and groans from a room of journalists at a transportation conference.
- He attempted to row back the comments later in the day, saying he would actually welcome a woman as his successor.
The CEO of Qatar Airways was booed at a press conference for saying that a woman couldn’t do his job “because it is a very challenging position.”
While telling journalists on Tuesday that women were not being underrepresented at the airline, Akbar al Baker added: “Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”
His comments, made at an International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual meeting in Sydney, elicited boos and groans of disapproval from many journalists in the room, Bloomberg reported.
Al Baker attempted to row back his comments later that day, claiming that he was “only referring to one individual” and that he would welcome a woman to be his successor.
He told Bloomberg: “I was only referring to one individual. I was not referring to the staff in general.” It is not clear which individual he was referring to. Qatar Airways has not responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Al Baker added that that one-third of Qatar Airways staff are female, and that there was “no gender inequality in Qatar Airways or in my country.”
“It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could develop to become CEO after me,” he said.
The exchange comes around the 5:35 mark in the video below.
The airline industry is particularly difficult for women, as female pilots remain vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts, and female crew on many airlines face discriminatory employment practices
Many female pilots in the US have pointed out the lack of paid maternity leave or alternative ground assignments for new mothers as obstacles. Until August 2015, female crew at Qatar Airways were fired if they became pregnant or got married.
Being a flight attendant in South Korea is also particularly competitive, as applicants are pressured by unspoken beauty standards that have led many to undertake plastic surgery including forehead moulding, nose bridge raising, and changing the shape of their face.
The lack of female representation even goes up to the CEO level: the IATA, of which al Baker became chairman this week, only has one woman on its board of 26 people – Christine Ourmières-Widener, CEO of Britain’s Flybe carrier.