Airline boss stirs gender debate with provocative comment

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker and Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce attend a press conference at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Sydney

The comment on suggesting his role was too hard for a woman sent shock waves through the event, doing little towards the promises of global airline chiefs to promote gender equality.

Asked whether he would welcome a woman as chief executive, Al Baker attempted to back track, saying: "It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me".

The boss at Qatar Airways might want to chat with Angela Merkel, Theresa May or other female heads of state to see if they need any help running their countries, as he views his position atop the state-owned airline as overly challenging for the opposite sex. Baker's comment started a gender debate causing major backlash aiming towards him.

Akbar Al Baker said his airline had taken steps to address gender equality, but when asked why it was led by a man, he replied: "Of course it had to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position".

The admission was made only a few minutes after Mr Al Baker was named chairman of the International Air Transport Association's board of governors, a male-dominated sphere in aviation.

"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 sensationalized by the media", Akbar al Baker said in a statement. "As a matter of fact (at) Air Italy the majority shareholder has shortlisted women to be CEO and as minority shareholder we are actively encouraging that". There's no gender inequality in Qatar Airways, he said.

Not only is diversity a competitive advantage, Joyce said, "It's the right business thing to do and it's the right moral thing to do".

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More than a third of Qatar Airways staff are female, he said, including pilots and senior vice-presidents.

"I was only referring to one individual", he said.

"This whole debate should encourage more", Walsh said.

"When you have diversity, your company's results are better", she told Reuters earlier on the sidelines of the Sydney airline talks.

'Aer Lingus recruited its first female pilot in 1977...

Qatar Airways has today been contacted for comment.

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