Qatar Airways CEO Apologizes That Media Sensationalized His Sexist Comment

Filed Under: Media, Qatar

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.

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…

  1. Qatar is not exactly a haven for women’s rights… but he represents his country and airline. He doesn’t need to be apologizing about gay rights, abusive laws and treatment of Asian foreign workers, or anything else for that matter…

  2. A powerful man from the Middle East who is known for his outlandish comments didn’t respond to a question about women’s rights in the manner we would hope for as well-meaning liberal Westerners?

    MY GOD!

  3. As I mentioned in yesterday’s story, we don’t even get hear what happened afterwards, because whoever posted the clip conveniently cut it off. If we could hear audio of what happened afterwards, or better yet, video, we could discern that this was probably a joke. One in bad taste, but a joke nonetheless. If the media cuts it off without letting us hear the whole thing, then yes, they are sensationalizing this.

    Things have gotten so politically correct in this country that not even Jerry Seinfeld will perform on college campuses anymore because people are just way too oversensitive.

    This is just one more reason I have lost all respect for the media. They complain to no end about President Trump lying (and they are right), then they hypocritically turn around and do the exact same thing by lying and distorting stories when reporting about him. This is yet another example of the media distorting the truth to fit their narrative.

  4. You can’t lump all media into the same. pick a few that follow rigorous rules of journalism and follow them.

    This is where a scientific mind helps
    An open but skeptical mind. Believing nothing is as bad as believing anything.

  5. Well, on one level he was correct: it’s a difficult job and there are few women who would be qualified for it ( the key consideration is WHY so few would be ready…).
    We’ve seen the abysmal, epic fail attempts to ‘install’ women in CEO /Company Chair roles as if by some quota/token/PR spin/turn. In many cases: absolute disaster. Too many to be coincidental. It’ll take a few decades yet of equal opportunity programs before women are able to compete for many roles on their merits rather than as tokens.
    We don’t see the same fails in education, health care, the judiciary, journalism, fashion, entertainment, reflecting some progress.

  6. @ Paolo

    “We’ve seen the abysmal, epic fail attempts to ‘install’ women in CEO /Company Chair roles as if by some quota/token/PR spin/turn. In many cases: absolute disaster. Too many to be coincidental.”

    Data to support that, please. I can quote any number of massive corporations destroyed by male leaders (Enron, anyone?) – does that mean men are not suited to leadership roles?

  7. @Paolo both men and women have been great, and both have failed in leading roles of companies. Since there are more men CEOs, obviously, by sheer number, men have failed far in more CEO roles.

    That being said, I have to say the cases of Cho Hyun-ah and Heather Cho (of the nut rage incident) at Korean air come to mind. Not to mention their mother, the wife of the chairman of Korean air, who was just acquitted of assaulting employees.

  8. Who care? lot of noise for nothing… waste of time to follow such stories… except American people, nobody is shocked… not nice words, but not a big deal neither. End of the story ))

  9. “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.”

    Kinda reminds of what was ABC thinking when hiring Roseanne again.

  10. honestly who cares? its not that big a deal. accept his apology, understand his context, his culture, and personality, and move on. no biggie.

  11. Actions speak louder than words: QR has a few female pilots, even PIC’s. I have flown on a 787, whereas the person on the left seat was a woman! I have flown on the 380, whereas the FO was an Arabic woman. Still many airlines, including TG and SQ – maybe more but I cannot confirm, refuse to have women on the flight deck! In that sense, Al Baker’s words might have been totally inappropriate and off track, but they have proven that they do not discriminate women!

  12. I tend to agree partially with Dan Nainan – what transpired after Alan Joyce’s dry and homorous diffusing of the situation?

    Is it REALLY a big issue? No – one person’s comment vs. the actions of a whole industry…

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