Marc Garneau said “pursuing gender equality should be a given” and called the comments “unproductive and unacceptable”
Qatar Airways chief executive criticised by Canadian travel minister over sexist remarks
The backlash against Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker’s remarks about women not being capable of leading an airline has continued, as Canada’s travel minister Marc Garneau took him to task for his comments.
Mr Al Baker, who had just been named the chairman of the International Air Transport Association, made the remarks at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday in response to a question from The National’s Deena Kamel.
Asked how IATA would tackle gender inequality in the traditionally male-dominated industry, Mr Al Baker said: “Of course, [Qatar Airways] has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.”
The remarks were met with boos and gasps at the press conference, and he subsequently apologised for them, but they have set off a wider debate in the industry about the lack of women in key management positions.
Mr Garneau has written to Mr Al Baker to complain, saying that expressing such sentiments would only make it more difficult for women to progress as pilots as well as in more senior roles in the infrastructure of major carriers.
“Pursuing gender equality [in the industry] should be a given,” Mr Garneau wrote, criticising the comments as “unproductive and unacceptable”.
The letter doesn’t say whether Canada would take any further action in response.
Other voices joined in the chorus of condemnation.
“Sounds like the head of Qatar Airways has a few things to learn about gender equality: he claims a woman could not do his job,” former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark wrote in a post on Twitter.
“He’s just been elected head of IATA, which has only two women on a 31-member board of governors. Time to tackle issues in the industry!”
And industry experts pointed out that other airlines in the Gulf had altogether more enlightened approaches to women in the aviation sector.
David Mackenzie, managing director of Mackenzie Jones Group, one of the largest independent recruitment agencies in the GCC, said: “If you look at the way the airline industry is going – certainly companies like Emirates have all-female flight crews now, pilots for some of their biggest planes – there is no proof that a woman cannot do a job as good as a man.”