AirAsia’s Fernandes denies town hall incident was sexist

A screenshot of the AirAsia virtual town hall. Photo: Cerventus/Reddit
A screenshot of the AirAsia virtual town hall. Photo: Cerventus/Reddit

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said he has told his Thai counterpart off for rudely interrupting a female employee speaking during a virtual town hall, but did not explain why he did not stand up for her when it happened. 

Fernandes told The Vibes yesterday that he has spoken to Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld, who had insulted a female employee during the town hall held two weeks ago by telling her to speed up and go straight to her question. He even mentioned an expletive when speaking to her during the session, a video of which has since gone viral online. 

“This is not the culture we want in AirAsia. What he did was wrong and he apologized,” Fernandes reportedly said. The two-minute video of the town hall, which was attended by some 500 people, showed Bijleveld interjecting the speaker multiple times. 

“What’s your f**cking question, come on,” he was heard saying, and: “What’s your question, come on. Don’t talk a lot, too much to talk.” 

Bijleveld also told her to shut up when she started speaking in Thai.

Others on the video call were AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Digital President Aireen Omar, and Head of E-Commerce Lim Ben-Jie, all of whom were seen laughing and smirking while the incident played out. They have been criticized for being “disgraceful,” “despicable,” and being “absolutely incomprehensible and vile.” Some also pointed out that Aireen should have stood up for her female employee. 

Fernandes denied to reporters yesterday that the incident was “sexist” since the Thai CEO would’ve uttered the same profanities towards a male employee. Fernandes added that it’s now up to AirAsia’s board of directors to decide whether further action needs to be taken against Bijleveld.

“Of course the language used was not right but I know Tassapon … He would say the same thing to a male staffer,” Fernandes said. 

The video of the town hall was shared on Reddit yesterday. Bijleveld apologized to staff on the same day, promising that the incident would not happen again.

“I feel so shocked, horrified, and enraged to see this video of my friend being grossly disrespected by the CEO of AirAsia Thailand in a live company town hall attended by over 500,” the poster said, adding that the person targeted by Bijleveld was a friend.

“I feel sick and disgusted, and also surprised, to see how corporate male egotism and patriarchy in a company like AirAsia is being tolerated,” it added. 

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