Is the temperature in your office sexist?

Men and women sit next to each other in office.
Men and women sit next to each other in office. Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images

MONTREAL – In the recurring, repetitive and decade-old thermostat battle in offices across the world, get ready to welcome a whole new issue to the table: gender.

In the 1960s, Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger developed a model to predict a comfortable indoor office temperature for an average worker.

Fanger used heat balance equations and studies about skin temperature to define ‘comfort’.

He concluded that an office at 22°C would be the most comfortable.

The problem with his method is the average office worker in the 1960s was a middle-aged man who wore a cotton long-sleeve shirt, a fitted vest accompanied by a blazer, long pants, topped off with socks and loafers (much like Fanger, himself).

Considering that in those days, offices were primarily male-dominated, that number may have made sense.

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But today, things are a little different.

We are well into the 21st century and there are tons of women that now work in offices across the world − and you guessed it, they’re cold.

According to a new study in Nature Climate Change, Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt discovered that office temperatures are set for male comfort.

The researchers, from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, asked 16 women to enter a climate chamber wearing light clothing, including a cotton T-shirt and cotton-polyester sweatpants – already more clothing than a woman’s typical summer outfit, which may consist of anything from blouses to dresses and sandals.

Essentially, the women sat behind a desk in a standard office chair as the temperature fluctuated between warm and cold.

The results of the study showed that, in addition to preferring warmer temperatures, women are often smaller, have more body fat than men and also tend to have slower metabolic rates.

So, Fanger’s 1960s standard office temperature is too cold for most women – not surprisingly -who prefer an office temperature of about 25°C.

They also noted that “gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” would set building temperatures at slightly warmer levels, conserve energy and even help combat global warming.

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Should we compromise to create a new office temperature norm?

For years now, women have been packing sweaters in their bags, leaving blankets in their desk drawers or frantically trying to find the nearest plug for a small-sized heater.

Is it the men’s turn to open a window, turn on a fan or buy some fancy new shorts?

Well, the battle continues.