Yesterday I wrote about how Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, made a controversial comment at the IATA Annual General Meeting. Al Baker was asked by a reporter what he’d do to promote gender equality in the airline industry, and he started off his response by saying “of course [IATA] has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.” Oy.
The audible gasp from the crowd as @qatarairways GCEO and @IATA Chairman Akbar Al Baker "jokes" only a man can be a CEO is amazing. Listen for yourself. @Qantas CEO Alan Joyce cutting him off was both good and bad, I suppose. #IATAAGM #iawa @WomenInAviation @WomenOfAviation pic.twitter.com/rrrFND3G5E
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 5, 2018
Al Baker is no stranger to saying inappropriate things, though there are a few things that made this especially cringeworthy:
- This was at the IATA AGM where he was being appointed as the new chairman for the next year, where he’s representing the airline industry on the whole
- 10 minutes before making this comment he had said that he’d shy away from controversial comments going forward
- It shows a horrible lack of judgment to think this is an appropriate joke to make at an international press conference to a female reporter asking about gender equality
Now Al Baker has released an apology for what he said… sort of. Here’s his statement:
“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 sensationalised by the media. Women comprise almost half (44%) of our work force, and the dedication, drive and skill they bring to their jobs tells me that no role is too tough for them, at all levels of the organisation.
Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace and our airline has been a pioneer in our region in this regard, as the first airline to employ female pilots, as one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and with females represented through to Senior Vice President positions within the airline reporting directly to me.
Qatar Airways is made stronger by its female employees for whom I hold nothing but the highest regard. I support all IATA initiatives to promote the advancement of women in our industry, and I am a strong advocate for these and will continue to be moving forward.”
He’s not really apologizing for what he said, and isn’t acknowledging that it was offensive. Rather he’s offering his heartfelt apology for “any offence caused” by what he says was “sensationalized by the media.”
Al Baker has long made crazy comments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his intention was just to be funny. We don’t know whether he believed what he said deep down, but he’s known to be a jokester. The thing is, when he’s just running his airline he can get away with that. He’s known to be an outspoken person who says crazy stuff, and it seems like no one at the airline is really in a position to tell him he might want to be more careful.
The problem is that for the next year he’s representing the airline industry on the whole. He’s not just the voice for his country’s airline, but rather the voice of the global airline industry, and that requires an extra filter (which he seemed to acknowledge, based on the fact that he said 10 minutes prior that he’d stop saying controversial things).
Really this just raises the question of what IATA was thinking appointing him as chairman for the next year. It’s not like this was out of character for him, so they should have seen this coming.
I’ll be curious to see if he somehow manages to tone it down for the next year, or if we’ll have more of these moments coming…