Flight Attendant Leader: How Can Airline With ‘Misogynist’ CEO Offer a Diversity Award?

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The leader of the largest flight attendant union is blasting the creation of a diversity and inclusion award funded by an airline that she says has a poor record on women’s rights and a “misogynist” CEO.

The International Air Transport Association announced Tuesday that it has launched the award with a sponsorship from Qatar Airways. Qatar will provide $25,000 awards in each of three categories: Two are for women contestants and the third goes to an airline.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, took to Twitter Tuesday morning.  She tweeted: “Seriously?

At Qatar, Nelson tweeted: “No union rights. {Flight attendants} must apply to get married. Dismissed if pregnant. &CEO says women could never be CEO. Hypocrisy.”

In an interview Tuesday, Nelson called the new awards “window dressing.

“They only happened because of pressure from unions and human rights groups,” she said. “We’re going to keep it up until they change not only written policy but also every-day practices.”

AFA represents 50,000 flight attendants at twenty airlines.

In June, Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar, was named to a one-year term as chairman of the IATA board of governors. IATA represents 290 airlines that carry 82% of global air traffic.

The global airline industry and IATA wants the award to be “a force for real change,” IATA said Tuesday in a prepared statement. The organization said it is determined “to improve the participation of women at every level and in every region of the globe.

“That will require support from all participants in the industry,” it said. “The IATA Diversity and Inclusion Awards aim to help that process by recognizing and encouraging positive examples of people and teams that are making a difference.

“Qatar Airways stepped forward and generously offered to sponsor these awards in full understanding and support of their aim,” IATA said. Judging for the awards will be conducted independently of the sponsor.

As for Al Baker, he “is on record apologizing for his earlier remarks on women in airline leadership,” IATA said.

Earlier, in a prepared statement, Al-Baker said,  “Qatar Airways recognizes the need for wider diversity in the workplace, not just in our airline but across the industry as a whole.” He said Qatar will work with IATA for the next decade, “continuing to encourage greater inclusion and diversification in the airline community.”

U.S. and European labor unions have long criticized Qatar for its practices regarding female employees. In addition, Qatar has long been engaged in conflict with the big three U.S. airlines because, despite being subsidized, it serves seven U.S. cities from its hub in Doha — in violation of Open Skies treaties.

Al-Baker, long known for incendiary comments, has been in open conflict with Nelson several times.

In 2017, speaking in Dublin at a celebration of the launch of Qatar Airways’ Doha-Dublin service, Al-Baker referred to the “excellent service from our international cabin crew,” adding, “By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years.”

By contrast, he said, “You know you are being served by grandmothers on American airlines.”

After Nelson spoke out, Al-Baker apologized to her publicly and sought to call her. But Nelson refused to take a phone call the from an Al-Baker assistant, saying her schedule was too crammed.

In a second tweet Tuesday morning, Nelson noted that Qatar once asked her to attend its private Jennifer Lopez concert. That occurred in 2016 in Atlanta, when the carrier was launching Doha-Atlanta service. Nelson tweeted:

“I told them I’d be happy to accept if an openly gay Qatar cabin crew member called to invite me. Radio silence! “

In 2018, Al-Bakar responded to questioning on women’s rights at the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism. His remarks were posted on a flight attendant’s website, paddleyourownkanoo.com

He said women have more rights in Qatar than in any neighboring countries. He said, “It is unsafe and unhealthy for a cabin crew to be pregnant and flying,” so pregnant flight attendants are provided an opportunity to work in other jobs.  He said that while flight attendants are recruited on a “single status contract,” they must inform the carrier of marriages due to insurance and other procedural changes.

Nelson said the policies remain discriminatory and Al-Bakar remains “a misogynist.”   She said only a half dozen of Qatar’s 10,000 flight attendants (including 8,000 women) have been allowed to switch jobs when they are pregnant.  Also, U.S. airlines do not require flight attendants to disclose whether they are married.

The new IATA awards will be granted in three categories. An inspirational role model award is for women over 30 who hold a senior position in the airline industry and has promoted gender diversity. A high flyer award is for women under 30 who have displayed inspirational leadership. A team award is for an airline that has enhanced diversity and inclusion.

Originally Published on Forbes.

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