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Joking Aside – Is it time to take The Pledge?

Akbar Al Baker.png

While Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Office at Qatar Airways, suggested that his comment about how his challenging job needed to be done by a man was a joke taken out of context, there’ll be many women in aviation – and outside – who failed to see the funny side. Me included.

It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humour. Simply that I’m tired of having to explain my presence. No, I’m not here to make the tea. Yes, I will take my seat at the table. I look back at the job I didn’t get because it was given to a less qualified man. I think of my friends passed over for promotion or had their jobs restructured away while on maternity leave because the men around them decided for them what level of ambition they had. Now that my daughter has turned eighteen I feel a fresh level of frustration that change is coming too slowly. I applaud Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General, if his organisation really is pushing airlines to make sure gender equality is on the agenda but it cannot be achieved fast enough for my daughter simply with an edict from above.

What is needed is more men to make a stand so we can move beyond the jokes about women not having a sense of humour.

Having attended three aviation conferences on three Continents over the past two months, I am struck by the lack of visibility of women in the industry, most notably as speakers and panellists.  I contrast this with the international development sector which I know a little about through being a Trustee of a major UK charity. The CEO of the charity took “The Pledge” some time ago and tells me that it has made a real difference. Sure, the conference organisers have to work a little harder to find the capable women who we know are out there, but it’s not stopped him being able to take part in panel discussions at conferences. The Pledge was created by Owen Barder (www.owen.org/pledge) back in early 2015 and reads

“At a public conference I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one women on the panel, not including the Chair.”

Initially “The Pledge” was signed by other NGO types but then it spread to Universities, international institutions, government departments and now signatories include individuals in the major accountancy and consulting firms, newspapers and a plethora of other businesses.

This idea isn’t actually new to aviation. Read the “Speaker Requests” page of the Qantas Newsroom website and you’ll see a statement which reads:

“Qantas supports the Male Champions of Change and has taken the Panel Pledge, which means Qantas representatives will only appear on panels that include at least one woman”.

So, here’s the challenge to my male colleagues, is it time you took The Pledge? If, when asked to take part in a panel discussion at a conference, you asked if there would be at least one women on the panel, would that be too much to ask? Would it lead to the talented women in the industry being more visible? Almost certainly.

Becca Rowland

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