Qatar Airways chief executive says a woman is incapable of handling his job

Airline's comments unnerved audience at travel industry conference in Sydney

FILE PHOTO: Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar al-Baker poses with pilots in the cockpit of an Airbus A350-1000 at the Eurasia Airshow in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

Only a man can handle the challenges of leading Qatar Airways, the carrier's chief executive Akbar Al Baker said at a press conference in Sydney.

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.

"Of course, it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position," Mr Al Baker said in response to a question on how the industry body will tackle the problem of gender inequality in key management positions, especially in the Middle East.

The comment on suggesting his role was too difficult for a woman sent shock waves through the event, doing little towards the promises of global airline chiefs to promote gender equality. The theme of gender imbalance was a major topic of discussion at the 74th edition of the Iata annual general meeting this year, in which a majority-male group of executives agreed that more needed to be done to get more women in senior management roles at airlines.

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Mr Al Baker’s response was met with gasps, boos and indignant responses from the media, with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce reminding Mr Al Baker of his promise to refrain from making controversial comments after accepting his position as chairman of the Iata board of governors.

Mr Al Baker said he wanted to have “fireworks around” to motivate people to ask questions during the press briefing, even as the room erupted with noise.

Mr Joyce went on to say that airlines who are not looking to tap into diversity will be “disadvantaged” and stressed the importance of balance not just in gender but also race.

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