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This Airline CEO Said Only a Man Can Do His Job

Day Two Of The 53rd International Paris Air ShowDay Two Of The 53rd International Paris Air Show
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive officer of Qatar Airways.Bloomberg — Getty Images

Women need not apply.

That’s the message Qatar Airways CEO sent this week when he suggested that only a man is capable of heading up the airline he currently leads.

“Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position,” Akbar Al Baker said in reference to his role as CEO at a press conference following a meeting of the International Air Transport Association’s board of governors—a group to which he had been named chair.

According to Bloomberg, there were “loud groans of disapproval” following Al Baker’s comment at the Sydney event.

Following the press conference, Al Baker seemed to soften his position in an interview, albeit only to a point. “I was only referring to one individual,” he said. “I was not referring to the staff in general.”

He told Bloomberg that Qatar Airways‘ staff is more than 33% female, with female pilots and female senior vice presidents and “there’s not gender inequality in Qatar Airways.”

“It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me,” he continued.

Regardless of Al Baker’s comments, the members of IATA appear to paint a picture of inequality. In an IATA board photo, only one woman appeared among the 26 people pictured. That woman is Christine Ourmières-Widener, CEO of U.K. regional carrier Flybe Group Plc.

Al Baker’s remark also called to mind the excuses U.K. companies have offered in explaining their lack of board diversity. Among them: that not many women have the right credentials since “the issues covered are extremely complex.”