Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Gender Bias of the Summer Thermostat Wars

You've heard it before. Women come to work in the summer and complain about the building being refrigerator-like. The men insist that they are too hot otherwise. Turns out that there are a number of physiological reasons  why women tend to be colder and men tend to be warmer. Because men are expected in a business environment to wear suits and jackets, and female business attire is often made of thinner material, this also contributes to the already existing disparity between men and women in the workplace A/C debate.

"Typically in an office, men want a temperature closer to 21 C while women prefer about 24 C." Yet According to a new research by Maastricht University, the standard used to determine the ideal indoor temperature is based on the body heat of the average man. Since men tend to be warmer, the temperature is often too cold for most women to work comfortably. The response from many appears to be, "get over it".

They claim that women wear less clothing to work than men do, and should just wear a sweater in the building, but it can be extremely uncomfortable to work when you have cold air blowing down on you in your workplace, no matter how many sweaters you wear. I have often found myself baffled at having to go to work when it is over 30 degrees only to go into a very cold building where I required a sweater. It has also been shown that the drastic changes in temperature from outside to inside can trigger illness when a virus is present in the body, which would in the end cut productivity for businesses.

This is part of a larger issue in which female needs, particularly in the workplace are not considered at all in the decisions being made, and the average man is used as the standard without actually checking to see if all employees will be satisfied with the temperature of the building they work in for many hours a day. It's also an ecological and economic issue, as it costs more money and uses much more energy to keep a building at a lower temperature.

But now that we know that men tend to be hotter and women tend to feel colder, it is an opportunity to adjust the work environment so everyone is satisfied.  In Japan, the Cool Biz Japan initiative saw men swap heavy business suits for more suitable summer attire in the hottest months, and they were then able to raise the temperature in the buildings, and save on costs and energy. This also provides a more comfortable environment for female employees, who prefer the building to be warmer.

We need to examine our tendency to use the average male as the standard, because it's not just about cold buildings, it's also present in medical researchsurgical research, marketing, and media . Even the ridiculous example of the women in a focus group being ignored when they railed against the now universally despised Clippy function in Windows. It just goes to show that technology is not exempt from this bias either. We can do a lot to make the world more accommodating for everyone, and it may just start with something small like a dress code change, and raising up our indoor temperatures in the summer.

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