Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon has taken a swipe at the airline industry's record on gender diversity and inclusion, as his company takes an award in that area.

The airline has today been awarded the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Team Award at the International Air Transport Association (Iata) annual meeting in Seoul, South Korea.

The award recognises Air New Zealand as ''leading the way for diversity and inclusion in the aviation industry,'' by implementing positive and tangible change in the diversity and inclusion space as part of its diversity agenda.

Speaking to the Herald from Seoul after accepting the award, Luxon said more action was needed, such as refusing to serve on all-male panel talks and creating women's support networks.


"The big elephant in the room if we want to be honest with ourselves is that Iata and the global aviation industry has an abysmal record on diversity and inclusion,'' he said.

"There are some practical steps that we could take to stop the lip service and embarrassing conversations like we've been having in 12 months time.''

He said some of his fellow delegates at the meeting were uncomfortable with what he was saying.

''You get pleasure in making them feel uncomfortable because it is forcing the issue to be named. First thing is you have to name the issue and call the challenge, the second thing you have to wrestle with the issue.''

Luxon said this could be messy but eventually it gets resolved.

A photo released yesterday shows the ongoing gender imbalance at the top of the airline industry, with only two women chief executives on the 27-member Iata Board of Governors.

Last year there was only one and while the association says the industry has a good record of employing women they were not reaching senior roles.

Air New Zealand was unanimously chosen as the winner from 70 submissions from other airlines around the world, with judges citing its diversity programme as ''authentic, impressive and a source of inspiration'' for other airlines.


Air New Zealand chief people officer Jodie King - one of three women among the airline's 10-strong group executive - says the company was very clear in its commitment to enabling an inclusive workplace culture. Its incoming chair is a woman, Dame Therese Walsh.

Air New Zealand launched its first diversity and inclusion strategy in 2013.

Since then, the airline has elevated its gender diversity by increasing the number of females in its 80 strong senior leadership team from 16 per cent in 2013 to 43 per cent in 2019.

Women's groups within the airline, such as Women Pilots Inspiring the Next Generation (Wings), have worked alongside the community to encourage more women to consider aviation as a career path.

With the global average of female pilots sitting at 5 per cent, Air New Zealand continued to focus on growing its percentage of female pilots across its regional and jet fleet which currently sits at 7.4 per cent.

Interview with Captain Kendall (Kilki) Culler. She joined Hawaiian Airlines 34 years ago. Now, 10 per cent of the airlines' 800 pilots are women. / Brett Phibbs

Qantas is also seeking more woman pilots.

Announcing that applications were open for its new regional pilot training scheme, it said about 17 per cent of the 22,000 people who have registered their interest in the academy are female.

Virgin Australia says more than half its cadet pilots are women.

Today's award at Iata was sponsored by Qatar Airways whose boss Akbar Al
Baker in his first news conference as chairman of the board of governors last year said that women were not up to the task of being CEOs.

He said afterwards his remarks were misinterpreted but he later apologised.