The head of Qatar Airways apologized on Tuesday after suggesting that only a man is capable of doing his job as chief executive of the airline.
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Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker reportedly made the comments after a reporter asked him about the lack of gender diversity in the Middle Eastern aviation sector, saying his position would be much too challenging for a woman.
According to Bloomberg, Al Baker told reporters that Qatar Airways “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”
Al Baker, who was also appointed chair of the International Air Transport Association this week, offered his “heartfelt apologies” in a statement on Tuesday, but he claimed his comments had been “sensationalized.”
“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,” Al Baker, 56, said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace and our airline has been a pioneer in our region in this regard.”
The company says about 44 percent of its workforce consists of women and claims to be the first airline to employ female pilots and engineers.
Al Baker’s initial remarks, which he said were a joke, contrast with efforts by many international airlines who have launched initiatives to diversify the predominantly male aviation industry.
Al Baker clarified his position in an interview on Tuesday, before the company issues its statement.
“I was only referring to one individual,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “I was not referring to the staff in general.”
When asked if he would support a female CEO, he said: “It will be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could then develop to become CEO after me.”