The head of Qatar Airways is backpedaling after saying it takes a man to do his job. Akbar Al Baker attended Tuesday's annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Sydney, Australia, where he was named as the organization's new chairman. But it was his response to a question about gender imbalance in the industry, a key topic of the meeting, that drew the most notice. Qatar Airways "has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position," Al Baker said. A day later, he issued "heartfelt apologies for any offense caused," though he said his comment was "sensationalized by the media," per the BBC. "Qatar Airways is made stronger by its female employees" and "the dedication, drive, and skill they bring to their jobs tells me that no role is too tough for them," he added.
Al Baker clarified that includes the role of CEO. (Females currently lead just six of IATA's 280 airline members.) Majority shareholder Air Italy "has shortlisted women to be the CEO and as a minority shareholder, we are actively encouraging that," he said, adding "it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways." Al Baker also stressed that he's "known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences," per CNN. The BBC agrees the CEO "has a reputation for making blunt and often humorous comments, but they can also backfire." Just last year, Al Baker apologized after he was accused of ageism for referring to US flight attendants as "grandmothers." The average age of his airline's flight attendants at the time was 26, per CBS News. (Read more Qatar Airways stories.)