More Men with Mustaches than Women In Top Spots at Medical Schools, Study Shows

Shaving Facial Hair Not the Solution to Gender Inequity, Says UCSF Researcher

By Suzanne Leigh

A man with a mustache is more likely than a woman to lead a medical school department, according to a study published on Wednesday Dec. 16 in the British Medical Journal

In order to explore gender equality in medical academia, senior author Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, of UCSF focused on the “visible presence of hair on the upper cutaneous lip,” found in website photographs of both male and female department heads in the top 50 government-funded schools of medicine.

But why the need to pitch women against mustaches?

Illustration of men with mustaches

“We wanted a funny way to draw attention to a very important and serious topic,” said Linos, assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Dermatology. “Increasing diversity in medical departments is good for everyone. Companies with more women leaders report higher profits and better performances. Increasing the number of women leaders in medicine will lead to stronger departments able to recruit the best physicians and trainees, and ultimately better serve our patients.”

Linos and her colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California Berkeley found that of the 1,018 department leaders, 13 percent were women, versus 19 percent of “mustached individuals,” despite the fact that less than 15 percent of the adult male population sport above-the-lip facial hair, said Linos. The proportion of female department leaders ranged from zero percent to 26 percent across institutions and zero percent to 36 percent across specialties.

Those departments in which female leaders outnumbered mustached leaders included pediatrics, dermatology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and plastic surgery. However the latter two departments reflect a low number of mustaches, rather than a high number of women leaders, the authors noted.

The researchers looked at the full spectrum of mustaches from standalone variants, such as the Pencil, Copstash Standard, Handlebar and Dali, to those combined with beards, like the Van Dyke, Hollywoodian and Zappa. There were no cases in which a department head was both female and had a mustache.

No-Mustache Ruling Would Be Detrimental to Workplace

“We believe that every department and institution should strive for a mustache index greater than or equal to one,” said Linos, tongue in cheek but with an underlying serious point. “There are two ways to achieve this: Asking leaders to shave their mustaches, which could have detrimental effects on workplace satisfaction and emotional wellbeing of mustached individuals. Or increase the number of women.”

Studies show that having clear pre-defined hiring criteria so that evaluators do not unconsciously pick the “attributes of the male candidates” leads to the recruitment of more women, the authors said. In many medical specialties women suffer “significant penalties in status and in pay” for taking off even short periods to care for children. Workplace strategies that reduce the premium for long hours and uninterrupted employment should be implemented in order to promote retention and advancement of women.

Women have accounted for close to 50 percent of all medical students over the past 15 years. But the proportion of women in academic medicine remains low and drops with increasing rank. Women comprise 38 percent of full-time faculty, 21 percent of full professors and 16 percent of deans, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Co-authors are Mackenzie Wehner, MD, and Kevin Nead, MD, of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; and Katerina Linos, JD, PhD, of the University of California Berkeley.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and UCSF Health, which includes two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, as well as other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.