The 74th IATA Annual General (AGM) meeting is history. It was a momentous event.
Airlines volunteered to do more to help law enforcement in the fight against the misery of human trafficking. And they reaffirmed their commitment to carbon-neutral growth from 2020. They provided extensively researched food for thought urging governments to be cautious when considering the privatization of airport infrastructure.
Looking further to the future, the AGM launched two major initiatives--to use technology to track bags in real time and move people through airports without having to repeatedly produce their identification.
Some of the biggest buzz of the conference centered on discussions of gender diversity in aviation. Our newly appointed Chairman, Akbar Al Baker has apologized for comments that he made about women in the industry. But the immediate reaction illustrated that expectations for change are high. And it is absolutely clear that aviation has a lot of work to do on gender balance at senior levels.
You need look no further than the composition of our Board of Governors to see the scale of the challenge. Of the 31 members on the IATA Board of Governors, there are only two women. That is reflective of an industry in which only 3% of CEOs are women.
Bridging the gap at senior levels will not be simple. Our AGM host, Qantas, is an example of what can be achieved. 44% of those directly reporting to Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, are women.
And there are some great role models to inspire more women into aviation’s senior ranks, including my counterpart at Airports Council International, the Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport, and the Secretary of the US Department of Transport. But, as we know, they are notable exceptions.
Diversity makes companies stronger. Aviation—the business of freedom—offers inspirational career opportunities. The challenge is to ensure that the aspirations of those who enter the industry are not cut short by barriers—visible or invisible. We must find ways to do that fast.
As a father with young daughters, I want them to grow up in a world where issues of gender balance are as outdated as travel with paper tickets. Aviation is an industry capable of moving with speed. It eliminated paper tickets in four years. And in the decade that followed, the travel experience has been completely re-vamped. We can move fast!
I don’t underestimate the scope of work needed to address the gender challenge—changing processes, policies and mindsets. Strategies for this were discussed at the AGM.
A combination of individual action by airlines and collective action as industry are needed to make aviation a more equitable place for all those who want to make a career in it. I am confident that our two female board members—Christine Ourmières-Widener of FlyBe and Maria Jose Hidalgo Gutierrez, CEO of Air Europa—will help to define a role for IATA as a catalyst for change in this important area.