(article via HRMorning.com)

In HR, we’re constantly preaching that everyone should be treated equally. So why, then, are women constantly freezing in the office wearing parkas and Snuggies, while men can relax in polo shirts? 

It’s because some employers’ thermostat settings may unintentionally be biased toward males.

Now you may be asking: We make everyone work in the same facility, at the same temperature. How can that be bias?

Here’s how: Many building thermostats follow a “thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s,” and one of the variables used in their thermal comfort equation is the resting metabolic rate (how fast we generate heat) of a 40-year-old man weighing roughly 154 pounds.

Translation: Office temperature calculations are often geared more toward suiting men’s bodies than women’s.

That was one of the conclusions of a climate change study conducted by two scientists from the Netherlands, Boris Kingma, a postdoctoral researcher of thermal biophysics and health at Maastricht University and Eindhoven University of Technology, and Dr. Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, a professor of Ecological energetics and health at Maastricht University.

The study was just published in the journal Nature Climate Change, and it recommends that buildings “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort.”

How? The study’s authors recommend changing the comfort formula to include the metabolic rates of women and men. They say there may be a five degree temperature difference between the optimal temperature for most women and that of most men.

But, of course, you’re not doing complex math calculations when you turn on the A/C in the summer. So should you just crank up the temperature a few degrees?

Dress is the issue as well

That would probably make the study’s authors happy, as higher office temperatures in the summer would help combat excess energy usage and, thus, combat global warming.

But a few degrees likely won’t completely solve the problem in your office.

That’s because men’s and women’s wardrobes are contributing to the problem. Women tend to wear cooler clothing — skirts, lower-collared shirts and open-toed shoes — while men, on the other hand, wear warmer clothing — pants, shirts and ties, and closed-toed shoes.

As a result, the best thing to do may be to combine a higher office temperature with a looser dress code.

Some suggestions (not included in the study):

  • Poll workers to see how many of them are too cold (or too hot) in your office, and try to find some middle ground, and
  • Adjust dress codes to help employees cope with the conditions — e.g., by adopting a more business casual approach, or by letting men wear shorts if you’re raising the temp in the room and/or recommending that women wear longer pants and heavier tops if you’re keeping the temp low.

In the end, the reality you’ll probably have to face is that you won’t be able to make everyone happy — at least temperature wise. But you may be able to make everyone a little less unhappy.