Your Office Thermostat Isn’t Sexist, Office Dress Code Is!

If you’ve ever wondered why you or your female coworkers are bundled up in a cardigan, pashmina or an oversized sweater to keep warm during work, we want to assure you – it’s not because the air conditioning is sexist and wasteful. Not quite.

Could it be possible that the transgressor is the inherently sexist office dress code? Let’s find out.

Picture it: It’s summer and while women are celebrating the warm weather with sundresses, silk shirts, and linen shorts, men are wearing the same long pants and long-sleeved button downs that they always have.

Many modern workplaces are business casual. But we haven’t reached there yet where men can wear polo shirts and chino shorts to work. Some HR guides are so hung up on men looking more competent and mature that they forbid men from wearing anything other than a neat and pressed business suit with a tie!

According to my research, and that of many, most organizations in traditional industries, including law and finance, merit traits associated with masculine norms. To be clear, men (and women) sometimes need to suppress their authentic selves in certain work situations. For instance, wearing colorful shirts in lieu of a charcoal, navy, or black jacket when engaged in activities such as interviewing for a promotion often attract microaggressions from colleagues.

sexist office dress code

When you’re in an office shivering under the office air conditioner it’s not because the temperature isn’t female-friendly. Neither gender is to blame, nor is this a ‘sexism’ or ‘reverse-sexism’ issue.

It goes without saying that the lack of laxity around office dress codes is a huge disservice to men and women. There are plenty of ways around how we choose to address the chilly office building issue without the need to complicate it any further. It makes me curious how men and women are still dealing with this kind of thing.

According to a study that appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, in modern offices, most AC units are based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing about 154 pounds. (The rate runs up to 23 percent faster than a woman’s.) While men are comfortable – neither shivering nor sweating – at about 72 °F (22 °C), women find that a bit chilly.

When you’re in an office shivering under the office air conditioner it’s not because the temperature isn’t female-friendly. Neither gender is to blame, nor is this a ‘sexism’ or ‘reverse-sexism’ issue. The root cause is the cooling load calculation that building engineers have to take into account system design. What building engineers ultimately care about is heat generating sources such as lights, computers, servers, printers, coffee pots, and how many people are in the building and how active they’ll be. When sizing a cooling system, a building engineer would assume every occupant is a man because that’s the worst-case scenario.

If the building occupants have local control of the temperature they need to work in harmony to find something comfortable. If the HVAC is automated, they should talk to building operators. If everyone can agree to a higher set point then it’s great.

To ditch the tweet suits and reduce air conditioning bill in summer, Japanese companies have adopted the Cool Biz initiative. Implemented in 2005 by the Ministry of the Environment in an attempt to quickly reduce CO2 emissions, ‘Cool Biz’ encourages offices to set air conditioner temperatures to no less than 82.4 °F (28 °C)—compared to a summer average of 70 °F in U.S. offices. As a result, companies now have signs around the office in Japanese and English telling employees and guests that they have a no tie, no jacket policy.

According to the most recent official estimate, the program prevented 1.69 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2010 and reduced emissions by 7.92 million tons in the last five years.

Another reason why you should consider raising the office air conditioner temperate because the cold staff is likely to submit erroneous work and be less productive. A study from 2004 found that people working in warmer conditions – 78.8 °F (26 °C) - make fewer typing mistakes and have increased productivity.

This issue also makes me wonder: what should be the workplace dress code expectations for a gender fluid person? Questions like these highlight why basing dress code expectations on written or unwritten norms and customs can lead to potential discrimination.

 So I want to ask: What are your office dress code policies? Are they sexist? Have you experienced consequences? How are they making you feel?

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