Gender imbalance in aviation is stark at Iata AGM

Sydney, June 06, 2018:  The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) 74th annual general meeting had it all; chief executives from the world’s largest airlines, aviation analysts and economists, insights on the industry, and way more. But women? There were barely any.

Panel after panel, speech after speech, there were men followed by more men discussing the aviation sector. And the crowd they were addressing was — you guessed it! — predominantly male.

 Even worse, this is unlikely to change any time soon — at least not for another five years, according to Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief executive officer, who said he viewed the current state of gender balance in the industry “very negatively.”

The good news: The lack of women in top positions in aviation isn’t lost on the men who run the industry.

“Around 80-85 per cent of the management [in airlines] are men. We are pushing airlines to make sure gender equality is on the agenda,” de Juniac told reporters when asked about the issue. “It will take at least five years to have significant [seats]; of more than zero.”

“You have probably noticed we have two females on the board, coming from zero. It’s too low, I fully recognise,” de Juniac said.

Similarly, sitting on an all-male panel, Alan Joyce, chief executive officer of Qantas Airways, said companies are “stronger with diversity.”

“If you’re not tapping into diversity and inclusion, you’re going to be at a disadvantage. We’re all looking for the best talent out there, and if some airlines and some companies are only looking for men, they’re not going to do well,” he said.

And while airlines may have women leading their corporate communications teams or their human resources teams, some of the main roles where women are hardly visible are as engineers and pilots.

The share of women who have CEO positions in the aviation industry is 3 per cent, compared to 12 per cent on average in other industries, according to an IATA report in March according to reports published in

In the Middle East, the share of women in senior executive roles is the lowest in the world, at 4 per cent. The second lowest share is in Asia-Pacific at 7 per cent, while the highest share is at 16 per cent in North America, IATA said.

“It’s going to take a long time to fix something which is inherent in our society like young girls not taking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at school, which limits their ability to be pilots and engineers,” Qantas’ Joyce said.

At a separate panel comprised of CEOs of Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, KLM, and Air New Zealand — all of whom are men, — moderator and CNN anchor Richard Quest pointed out that the issue probably won’t be solved with just men discussing it.

“Forty per cent of our board now [are] women. But you can’t just set quotas around that; you actually have to go back and build the programmes and the development and deal with the barriers and obstacles,” said Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand’s CEO.

Calin Rovinescu, the president and CEO of Air Canada, also said quotas aren’t the answer, and that it was important for women to see other women in senior roles in male-dominated areas such as commercial operations.

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