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During notionally light-hearted moments, the truth slithers out from under the carpet. Shortly after becoming chairman of the International Air Transport Association’s board of governors, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was asked by an Australian journalist what could be done about the woeful representation of women in Middle East aviation. He tried to be flip about it. First mistake. And then he said, in jocular fashion: "Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position." There were groans. And there are ironies. By the standards of Middle East aviation, as Al Baker sorrowfully pointed out afterwards, Qatar Airways is a frontrunner: the first airline in the region to employ female pilots, one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and with females represented through to senior vice-president. About 44% of the airline’s staff are women, he said, offering his "heartfelt" apologies.

This little vignette, echoed in many other situations, ...

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