Today at work Brandon Smith (aka The Workplace Therapist) came to train us about how to influence and manage other people well. At one point during the training he said, “Ok, let’s talk about the temperature. Who in the room is cold?” Immediately EVERY SINGLE WOMAN in the room raised her hand (about 30 women). He then asked who was hot and 2 men raised their hands. Finally, he asked who was comfortable, and the remaining 18 men raised their hands*. None of the men in the room were cold and none of the women were comfortable (shocking statistics here!). His point had nothing to do with gender, and he didn’t even comment on it. Rather, he went on to give an example of how to address needs and find solutions. However, what struck me was the stark gender discrepancy in the room. Why was the temperature in the room set so that the men were comfortable but that ALL of the women were cold for the entire 6 ½ hours we were there? Perhaps you might argue that this is a one-off situation, a glitch or just a coincidence, but my mind jumped to the news article I once heard on the exact same subject. Check out this NY Times article.
Research shows that the typical office temperature is based on a formula that uses the average metabolic rates of men. To put some approximate numbers on it, commonly offices are set to about 70 degrees (preferable to men) whereas most women would prefer something closer to 75 degrees. When the formula was created most women did not hold office jobs, so this might have made sense. But now its 2016. Women are working, and office temperatures need to catch up. While this may seem like a minor discrimination, it is a discrimination that causes most men to be comfortable in their office all day and most women to be cold in their office all day. This is why I keep a Snuggie at my desk. This is why my roommate runs a space heater at her desk everyday, even when we are suffering through another Atlanta summer with 90-degree temperatures and 85% humidity. This is why my female coworkers make hot tea, just to have something to warm up their hands in between typing.
If we are serious about workplace equality, the conversation should not just be limited to which gender is filling which role in the company (though that of course is important!). We must also address the environmental factors that favor men over women. The small things that often go unnoticed are worth discussing and addressing. As much as I love my UNC Snuggie, I would rather wear it while watching a movie instead of while trying to be professional at the office.
*These numbers are approximate. I did not take an actual head count in the room. Additionally, it is interesting to note that my workplace does not follow typical gender statistics, as our firm has a slight majority of women.