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Global airlines say more work needed on gender diversity goals

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By Joanna Plucinska

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Despite progress in improving gender diversity in the aviation sector, equality is still a distant goal, figures presented on Tuesday at the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) annual meeting in Istanbul showed.

Aviation is known for its poor record on achieving gender balance, particularly among pilots, but also in technical and engineering roles and in senior leadership.

The airline association launched an initiative known as 25by2025 in 2019 to improve diversity following allegations of sexism in the industry, but so far only half of its members have signed up.

IATA has been promoting the initiative this year, which aims to increase the number of women in senior positions and under-represented areas by 25%, or to a minimum of 25% by 2025.

“Women are still under-represented in aviation, but…we are making progress,” IATA head Willie Walsh said.

According to this year’s figures, there are 28 female CEOs in the 300-strong airline group, while 42% of the staff at the airlines that have signed onto the initiative are women.

This year’s appointment of Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the CEO of RwandAir, as the chair of the IATA board of governors was seen as a step forward.

“If you look at the board it is predominantly middle-aged white men from Europe…we have to strive to improve that situation,” Walsh said in 2018, the year before the gender diversity initiative was launched.

At the group’s 2018 annual meeting, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker said only a man can be a chief executive of an airline “because it is a very challenging position.”

Al Baker apologised for his comments, saying they were a joke and were taken out of context, but they sparked a broader discussion in the industry.

“I think we should not even joke about this, because we’re all humans,” said Guliz Ozturk, CEO of Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines.

“A woman or a man can do everything if he is or she is eligible for it in terms of competency, education, experience as a person.”

More needs to be done to encourage education support as well and provide mentorship so female candidates can build confidence, Ozturk added.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska)

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