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America’s Most Powerful Flight Attendant Just Came After Qatar Airways for Sponsoring Gender Diversity Awards

America’s Most Powerful Flight Attendant Just Came After Qatar Airways for Sponsoring Gender Diversity Awards

America's Most Powerful Flight Attendant Just Came After Qatar Airways for Sponsoring Gender Diversity Awards

Qatar Airways, the Doha-based airline that regularly holds ‘female only’ recruitment events for new cabin crew and whose chief executive has faced heavy criticism for sexist remarks, has just announced it is partnering with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) by sponsoring for a new Diversity and Inclusion Awards that “promote greater gender diversification in the aviation industry”.

IATA, which represents the vast majority of commercial airlines around the world, was itself criticised for a lack of gender diversity when photos from the organisation’s annual general meeting last year revealed just how much dominance middle-aged men still had in senior leadership positions within the aviation industry.

Qatar Airways says it made the decision to sponsor the diversity awards as it “recognises the need to encourage women to succeed and excel at all levels of the industry.”  Akbar Al Baker was named the chairman of IATA’s board of governors last year, shortly before suggesting that only men were capable of running an airline.

Baker was caught on audio telling a reporter that he thought the gender balance at Qatar Airways was already perfectly fine but when challenged about the fact the airline was being run by a man, Baker replied: “Well, of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging role.”

The often outspoken chief executive later apologised, claiming his words were no more than an ill-judged joke.  Previously, Baker likened flight attendants at U.S.-based airlines as “grandmothers” and bragged about the apparent youth of his own mainly female cabin crew.

Qatar Airways made the announcement for its diversity sponsorship as it actively advertised a cabin crew recruitment event whereby only female candidates are allowed to attend.  The airline is believed to have strict quotas for the ratio of male and female cabin crew.

In the past, the airline has come in for heavy criticism for its treatment of cabin crew including forcing staff to request permission before they can get married and sacking crew who become pregnant.

Sara Nelson, recently named America’s most powerful flight attendant by the New York Times and leader of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) took to Twitter to blast Qatar’s sponsorship of the awards.  Nelson revealed the airline once invited her to an event and concert featuring J.Lo but when she challenged the airline to offer up an openly gay member of cabin crew, she claims “radio silence” soon followed.

IATA launched back at Nelson, saying it was committed to keeping the judging process independent and using the awards to encourage positive change in the industry.

Changing his tune somewhat, Baker now says his airline “recognises the need for wider diversity in the workplace, not just in our airline but across the industry as a whole”.

The first award ceremony will take place in Seoul, South Korea between the 1st and 3rd June at IATA’s annual general meeting.  According to IATA, there will be three main awards:

The Inspirational Role Model Award: presented a female (30+) who holds a senior position within the industry who has had a significant impact on the aviation agenda through her strong contribution to business delivery, as well as her ongoing support of promoting diversity. This award is open to all female participants in the aviation industry.

The High Flyer Award: designed to recognise a female under 30 who has started to grow their career, and is demonstrating thought leadership in the industry through their inspirational work. This award is open to all under-30 female participants in the aviation industry.

The Diversity and Inclusion Team Award: created to give recognition to an airline that has seen a tangible change in their diversity as a result of the work they have been doing in diversification and inclusion. This award is open to all IATA member airlines.


It would be great if IATA seemed really serious about improving gender diversity but the inclusion of Qatar Airways and Akbar Al Baker in this IATA’s iniative just reeks of something really rotten.  Nothing has really changed since last year’s AGM so you can’t help but feel that IATA is running a spin campaign ahead of the photo ops that will yet again show a male dominated aviation industry.

Work to improve diversity and gender equality needs to start way closer to home with concrete measures that challenges the industry’s outdated view of the world.  Simply throwing money at a lavish party and awards ceremony is not going to improve the situation.

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