Office Aircon Is Sexist to Women, Study Finds

A study on office temperature complaints has suggested that women are less likely to be comfortable with their workplace temperature than men are.

It found that a phenomenon dubbed "overcooling" during the summer, in which air conditioning systems cool down rooms more than is necessary, may lead to women in particular feeling uncomfortable.

The study concluded there is "a need to rethink the approach to air-conditioning office buildings" as a result of its findings.

The U.S. study involved data from two main sources: 38,851 responses to the CBE Occupant Survey between March 2000 and December 2019, in which people were asked questions about the indoor environment of their workplace, including temperature; and Twitter, from which 16,791 tweets between January 2010 and December 2019 were studied. The tweets were limited to the U.S. and had to include a location plus keywords like "cold" and "office".

From the CBE survey alone, the study found that out of 38 percent of people who said they were dissatisfied with office temperature, 64 percent were women.

Of those people who were dissatisfied, 20 percent said they were too cold during the summer, and 76 percent of that particular group were women. Women were also more likely to say they were too cold in the winter.

From the Twitter data, the study found that while both women and men tweeted about cold offices during the year, tweets about cold offices from men "only increase in winter" while there was an increase in such twitter activity for women starting in July.

There were also more tweets from women (66 percent) than men (34 percent) about cold offices generally, though the study noted that this is an overrepresentation since "an estimated 55 percent of U.S. Twitter users are women."

In any case, the study states that overcooling is "a wasteful and unsustainable energy expense" that "may adversely impact the ability of women to focus on their work."

It did not offer precise reasons for overcooling, but suggested lower-than-necessary temperatures "that favor the thermal preferences of men" could be one reason.

The study also dismissed a lower metabolic rate and lighter clothing as reasons why women might feel colder than men, noting that these explanations "inadvertently position women as the source of the problem rather than the thermal environments of offices."

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on December 8 this year. Three of its four authors were affiliated with the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California Berkeley, while the other was based at the Indoor Environmental Quality Lab at the University of Sydney.

Newsweek has reported on temperature issues in the past, including debate around a viral tweet suggesting people should sleep at a temperature of 82 degrees. In 2019 scientists also had the idea of monitoring people's body temperatures in the office to better regulate the air conditioning.

Cold in office
A stock photo shows a woman wearing warm clothing appearing to feel cold whilst using a computer. A study has suggested office temperatures are more likely to suit men. AntonioGuillem/Getty