This post was written by our Co-Founder JuIiet Eccleston

You’ve probably heard about Akbar Al Baker, the head of Qatar Airways, who attended the International Air Transport Association’s annual conference and told the assembled press reporters that his job was too demanding for a woman. Or, to quote his exact words, when asked about the under-representation of women in Middle Eastern airlines, he replied that the company had “to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”. He also added, without a trace of irony, that a lack of inclusion wasn’t an issue at the company.

Once I had recovered my composure, I was pleased to see that the media and his industry peers recognised this blatant display of sexism for what it was. Swiftly back-peddling under the pressure, he later issued a statement declaring that his organisation has “a female workforce of more than 33 per cent” and enthusing, “it would be my pleasure if I could help develop a female candidate to be the next CEO of Qatar Airways.”

An ongoing concern

The problem is that this isn’t an isolated incident of sexism and it’s not an attitude which is particular only to Middle Eastern airlines. Last week on LinkedIn, I posted about the feeble reasons that were given for not appointing women to FTSE company boards, according to a report on gender balance. All of the excuses were based on outdated stereotypes and generalisations about women’s limited professional capabilities. I am deeply concerned that competent individuals aren’t even being considered for senior roles due to the unconscious – or even conscious – bias of existing business leaders who are shortlisting candidates who mirror the existing workforce or hiring in their own image.

Sexism aside, this old-fashioned attitude simply isn’t beneficial to modern, progressive organisations as hiring the usual suspects doesn’t lend itself to innovation. The more diverse a workforce, the more business leaders are able to draw on their fresh insight and differing perspectives in order to approach problems and strategically plan.

Disrupting bias

This frustration with the lack of equality of opportunity was what prompted me to co-found AnyGood?, a platform where professionals recommend other professionals for positions that they know they’d be perfect for. It means that individuals are put forward based on their merit, experience and skills by the people who know them. Because recommendations are anonymous, unconscious bias is minimalised: professionals simply tell an employer that they know an individual with the ability to do the job. It creates greater fairness in the hiring process and means that regardless of race, sexuality, age, religion or disability, candidates are on an even playing field.

It’s vital for businesses to examine the attitudes of their leaders and ensure that deeply entrenched, unhelpful stereotypes aren’t depriving their workplace of talented individuals. With increased scrutiny of diversity and inclusion following the gender pay gap reporting, it simply isn’t acceptable for organisations to fail to consider anyone other than the best person for the job.

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