Even though medical schools now graduate men and women in roughly equal numbers, it’s still relatively uncommon for females to ascend to the top of their departments.
Just how dire is the situation? An unusual study has found that women are beat out by men with an unpopular facial accompaniment: the mustache.
The bizarre women-to-mustache comparison was published in the often-humorous Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal. While the paper was in jest, University of Pennsylvania dermatology resident Mackenzie Wehner said the intent was to highlight a real problem.
“Mustaches are pretty rare, and we wanted to see if women were even rarer,” she said. “We thought that this would be something that would catch people’s attention in a different way than all the other studies that have come out about this issue.”
Along with her co-authors, she spent hours perusing photos of department chairs at the 50 medical schools in the country receiving the most National Institutes of Health funding.
“It was disappointing gathering the data,” she said. “We kept seeing mustaches, and we kept looking for women. And they just weren’t there.”
In total, women held just 13 percent of all leadership positions, while mustachioed men claimed 19 percent. That worked out to a “mustache index” of 0.7, or just seven women for every 10 mustachioed men.
Some specialties fared better than others, including female-dominated fields such as obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics. But some scored high mustache indexes simply by having relatively few men with upper lip facial hair.
General surgery, for instance, had the highest mustache index of any specialty at 3.0, but only because a single man sported a mustache.
The sole local institution included in the analysis was the University of Pennsylvania, which with the 11th highest mustache index, performed well by comparison. Tellingly, however, women occupied just four of 20 leadership positions; mustachioed men held three.
Increasing female participation at the highest level is likely to take some time, said Wehner. She suggested implementing tenure clock extensions, flexible schedules, parental leave for both genders, and defined hiring criteria to improve the dismal numbers.
“I would love there to be no paper to write in 10 years about mustaches,” Wehner said. “That would be phenomenal.”