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Want to be a leader? Maybe you should grow a  mustache…

Monday, January 25, 2016
posted by Douglas Keene

We’re unsure if this strategy would work for women but it seems to work for men—at least in medical schools and teaching hospitals. We do presume those male leaders with mustaches do not have the sort of mustache illustrating this post but what do we know? We also tend to believe that if a woman were to grow this sort of mustache, she would also not be selected to advance as a leader. But, we digress. On to the real point of this blog post.

Each year, the British Medical Journal publishes a Christmas issue where they offer a more light-hearted look at important issues of the day. We posted about one of their articles on Christmas Day. Here is another important paper that (alas) reflects what women know all too well when it comes to women in leadership. These researchers (two medical residents, a professor of law ,and a professor of dermatology) examined (carefully and presumably visually) “clinical department leaders (n=1018) at the top 50 US medical schools funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)” to see if they were male or female and whether they had mustaches. None of the women in the sample had a mustache. The researchers defined a mustache in the following way: “the visible presence of hair on the upper cutaneous lip” and they included the presence of both standalone mustaches and mustaches in combination with other facial hair. They specifically did not include facial hair such as “mutton chops” or “chin curtains” as mustaches.

According to the researchers women accounted for only 13% of department leaders in the sample (137 women out of 1,018 department leaders).

Leaders with mustaches (none of them, as mentioned earlier, women) accounted for 19% of the sample (190/1,018 total leaders). And according to them, less than 15% of men in the country have mustaches so mustached men are over-represented among medical department leadership. .

The proportion of female leaders ranged from 0% to 26% across institutions and from 0% to 36% across specialties.

Only seven specific institutions and five specialties had more than 20% of female department leaders.

The researchers developed a novel unit of measure called the mustache index. (Essentially this is computed by looking at the number of mustached leaders versus the number of female leaders.) “The overall mustache index of all academic medical departments studied was 0.72 (p<.004). In other words, a medical department is much more likely to be led by a man with a mustache than by a woman. Only six of 20 separate medical specialties had “more women than mustaches” (for a mustache index > 1).

The researchers recommend that “mustachioed” individuals should number less than the number of women in medical department leadership (and they state they clearly do not mean a “no mustache” policy). They want to call attention to the disparity in these leadership positions between men and women—hence the tongue-in-cheek “mustache index”. They offer a number of suggestions to help increase the number of women in leadership positions that revolve around developing job criteria prior to evaluating candidates, flexible work schedules as well as increased personal control over work time and cite the high levels of satisfaction among women physicians in specialties that allow “controllable lifestyle” such as dermatology and anesthesiology.

From a litigation perspective, this really applies most to law office management and we’ve written before about the importance of hiring practices that do not discriminate against applicants by gender or race and ethnicity (as well as other descriptive characteristics). You can see all those posts by looking at our blog category on law office management. Do a quick count in your own office. Do leaders with mustaches outnumber leaders who are women?

Wehner MR, Nead KT, Linos K, & Linos E (2015). Plenty of moustaches but not enough women: cross sectional study of medical leaders. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 351 PMID: 26673637

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