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JULY 2018


IATA urges gender diversity in industry

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July 1st 2018

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When Qatar Airways’ outspoken group managing director and CEO, Akbar al Baker, said in Sydney in June that his airline had to be run by a man, it was, he later said, a joke. Read More » Maybe? Fortunately, his remarks had a positive outcome. They placed heightened focus on an issue that is being seriously addressed by the industry.

Thousands of women work in the airline industry but in 2018 female airline CEOs are a rare species. The International Air Transport Association’s 31 member Board of Governors, now chaired by Al Baker, has two: Air Europa’s María José Hidalgo Gutiérrez and Flybe’s Christine Ourmières-Widener.

In the Asia-Pacific, Jayne Hrdlicka successfully ran Jetstar before she left the industry last year. Thai Airways International has an acting female president, Usanee Sangsingkeo, and Aireen Omar was CEO of AirAsia before she moved up to deputy group CEO of digital, transformation and corporate services.

A search of all editions of Orient Aviation for almost 25 years throws up four Asia-Pacific female airline CEOs as cover stories. Apart from Hrdlicka and Omar, they were Christine Tsung at China Airlines and Kitty Yen at EVA Air.

Globally, the statistics reflect the same trend. IATA has said the proportion of women holding CEO roles in aviation is three per cent. This compares with 12% in other industries.

Many airlines have programs that address gender inequality and encourage women to aim for the top of the corporate ladder. At Air New Zealand 40% of its management and board are female. Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, has the same numbers in mind for his airline group.

Despite his jest, Al Baker said Qatar Airways was the first carrier in the Middle East to employ female pilots. Eventually he would like a woman take his job, he said.

Obviously this is not going to happen anytime soon. What is encouraging is that IATA is breaking down stereotypes. It is saying to the industry that it must dismantle the barriers of race and sexism that keep people of ability outside their doors.

It is asking the industry to see people for their talent and not their gender differences or their colour. It will be a challenge because it addresses an issue many airline CEOs will declare does exist in their airlines. But it does. Let’s hope IATA’s call for change won’t be regarded as corporate window dressing and be ignored.

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