The formula most American offices use to determine where to set the thermostat was developed in the 1960s and is based on the body mass and metabolic rate of the average cisgender dude. Which I guess was fine in the ’60s, when the majority of office workers fit into that category. Now it’s 2019; the same old formula is still in use; cisgender dudes make up about half of the American officeplace, and the rest of us are freezing.
You can find plenty of articles about this, and they all boil down to: if you have a smaller body mass, slower metabolism, and/or different body-fat-to-muscle ratio than the statistically average forty-year-old cisgender white guy, you’re probably cold in the office. It’s been just one of a sea of sexist, racist microaggressions over the decades: the people for whom the system is literally calibrated are perfectly comfortable and can’t understand why the rest of us “make such a fuss.”
But it’s more than fuss. In a more recent study, a group of people were given a set of math problems to complete while researchers gradually raised the room’s temperature. As the temperature increased, so did the women’s correct answers steadily improved.
And before anyone bewails the fate of the poor, overheated men, they showed no measurable decline in performance as the room got warmer. In other words, increasing the temperature helped women and had no impact on men.
(Hey. Sorry for the binarist language. There’s not a lot of nuance in these studies. Researchers assumed their subjects were either men or women and don’t seem to have been aware of trans- and/or nonbinariness. I also couldn’t find any discussion of the impacts of colder offices on AMAB POC, but I imagine there must be some differences there, as well.)
The broader, long-term implications of this are easy to see. Physically comfortable cisgender men excel at their jobs and therefore receive greater opportunities for pay raises, promotions, and professional accolades. Meanwhile, women, AFAB trans/nonbinary folks, and even smaller cis men (many of whom are from minoritized race and ethnicity groups), may underperform because we struggle to function in the cold environment, often leading to poor performance appraisals and reduced opportunities for advancement.
It’s far past time to throw out the outdated formula for office temperatures. If you’re an architect who designs office buildings, an administrator who controls your building’s environment, or a supervisor who regularly reports to superiors about the health and well-being of your employees, consider planning and/or advocating for a higher office temperature. If that’s not an option, look into energy-efficient space heater options for areas where a lot of shivering employees are clustered.
In the meantime, those of us suffering under the thermostat are stuck wearing hats, shrugs, lap blankets, and fingerless mitts to keep ourselves warm in the office, especially in summer, when “dressing light” to keep from melting outside leaves us vulnerable to the cranked up AC.
In this category goes my most recent finished crocheted object: The Cold Office Cardi. Using the Movie Night Cocoon Cardi pattern by Alexandra Tavel, it used up the notorious Dark Thyme yarn I had left over from The Vest. I lost a game of Yarn Chicken two rounds from the end, so black yarn to finish things off worked quite nicely. It’s a delightfully simple pattern that works up fast. I’m quite looking forward to wearing my new sweater around the office.
I just wish I didn’t have to.