Qatar Airways CEO’s sexist comments don’t fly

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker (second from right) at the U.K.’s Farnborough Airshow in July 2016. 

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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. 

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday at the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Sydney, Australia, Akbar Al Baker marked the occasion of becoming chair of the trade body’s board of governors by dismissing the notion that the lack of women in his industry is an issue.

Of his own job running one of the world’s biggest carriers, Al Baker had this to say: “Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.” 

The remark drew audible groans and gasps at the event at which improving diversity at airlines was a major theme, with a panel discussion on the topic held the prior day.

Qatar Airways followed up with a statement from Al Baker suggesting his comment had been made in jest. “While I am known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences, it is crucial that I emphasis the facts as I did today and the importance of women representatives in the airline industry,” it reportedly read.

Al Baker also attempted to repair the damage in a subsequent interview, telling Bloomberg News that he had only been referencing one person, rather than the entire staff. 

Asked if he would embrace having a female leader, he told the news service: “It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate that I could then develop to become CEO after me.”

The remarks are not Al Baker’s first to spark controversy. The Qatar Airways chief last year apologized after describing American flight attendants as “grandmothers,” as opposed to the average age of 26 for cabin crews working at his carrier. 

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