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First, let me apologize to all my beloved female office mates for this post. I work in an elderly building with only periodic climate control. In the summer, we freeze, until the air conditioning stops altogether. Then we pray for relief until it gets fixed. We vow as we swelter never to complain about being cold again. When we’re back to freezing, we walk around grimly blowing on stiff fingers and sipping hot tea all day. I get it, my sisters, and I love you. But a recent article made me take a long hard look at how women cope with climate issues in the office.
Laura Marsh, writing for Elle Magazine online, says that you see two wardrobe accommodations near almost every female office worker’s desk: comfortable shoes (or sneakers, if she walks or commutes in the city) and… “the desk blanket.” Oversize sweaters, fleece jackets, hoodies, even shawls that women dawn in the hopes of getting through the day comfortably.
Even offices where climate control is fully functional wind up setting the thermostat at a temperature that makes the men comfortable and the women, not so much. Since men have higher metabolic rates than women, women wind up shivering – and compensating by adding layers of clothing. Marsh writes that when they do, women are choosing comfort over power.
“When you wear a shawl, you make yourself smaller and less defined, huddling into its folds as you type with barely exposed fingertips,” she writes. She gives several examples in her article, including a reporter in Kansas City who told her, “”I wear my fleece blanket like a Sansa Stark fur.”
A New York Times article published in 2015 cites the research from two scientists who concluded that most office thermostats were set based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. Their research was published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change. They reported that the formula may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35 percent. The point of their study? Energy consumption of residential buildings and offices adds up to about 30 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions; if we turned up the air, we could save the planet and save women from resorting to wearing Snuggies® at work.
Here’s the problem with all the extra layers: they don’t contribute to your image as a powerful, confident woman. Desk blankets are never purchased as a power accessory; they’re from the back of a woman’s closet, usually a few years old, worn and faded from wear. And sometimes, they are pink with teddy bears.
Research also indicates that as we age, we’re more susceptible to cold, creating a young/old divide that office shawls make worse. The desk blanket also covers up any fashion you might be wearing, so your carefully chosen outfit is wasted. Meanwhile, the guys are cool and comfortable.
So what is the perfect – and equitable – office temperature? Ergonomics expert Chris Adams says that most research indicates that an optimal office temperature between 70 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit provides maximum office worker productivity. “However,” he writes, “a well respected study by Cornell University returned a result of 77 degrees Fahrenheit as the optimal temperature.” (My guess is that study included more women.) The British government split the difference and issued guidelines that recommend 74 degrees.
Back to you… Is the Desk Blanket a necessary evil? Should women strike for temperature equality? What IS the perfect office thermostat setting? Leave a comment and let me know.
Better yet, post a photo of your desk blanket.