Air conditioning is sexist: Fact.

The debate is finally over and the facts have been revealed for all to see.

Office air conditioning makes women feel cold and uncomfortable, by design.

No, that doesn’t mean that some shady figure sits in a darkened room somewhere in the bowels of every office building, surrounded by CCTV on which he monitors each female employee while barking orders to some unseen minions;

“Daphne on level six has just taken off her cardigan, bring the temp on six down by two degrees, we’ll soon have that back on her.”

Actually the truth is even more laughable.

The ‘modern’ air conditioner was first used back at the start of the last century, when a device for controlling temperature and humidity was installed in a Brooklyn printing company on 17th July 1902.

The first domestic air conditioner was installed in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1906.

Since then the technology has undergone many changes but the principle has remained the same; to make the ambient temperature in a workspace or living area more comfortable for the occupants.

But it was the commercial building boom of the 1950’s and 1960's that created the standard for offices to be air conditioned, and it was at this time that the industry developed its benchmarks.

Accordingly, such equipment continues to be designed to match a standard operating temperature set at a time when these spaces were largely populated by middle aged men wearing dark suits and ties.

Think Mad Men, and you get the idea.

Women’s fashions of the time were also far more ‘fulsome’, with petticoats, slips and full body girdles as standard attire, all of which have been largely banished from the modern wardrobe.

Added to this are the results of research by Dutch scientists at the University of Maastricht which shows a wide disparity between the ‘comfortable’ levels of ambience of men and women; a difference of some 3C.

Women prefer an ambient room temperature of around 25C while their male counterparts operate best at 22C.

Small wonder then, that every office in every city all over the world has been forced into factional, entrenched, sometimes bitter, civil war for control of the aircon.

Women have been routinely told to ‘toughen up’, ‘stop complaining’ or ‘wear something warmer’ when they say they feel cold.

In response, those women who have held positions which carry some oversight, real or imagined, of the thermostatic controls, have used them to make the men in their offices pay dearly,

Now we know there is a genuine difference in the comfort levels experienced by the genders at different temperatures, but because it was ‘men who made the machines’ (to steal a James Brown phrase), they have had the upper hand.

The problem is, where does that leave us in terms of an acceptable ambience which will satisfy both parties?

Setting the temperature at a compromise level between the two ‘thermal comfort models’ identified by the research, say 23.5C, will be just a little warm for one group and a tad cold for the other,

In the absence of a goldilocks solution it is more than likely that the argument will rage on and that the sheer majority will carry the day in any given environment.

But at least now we know that each side is expressing a genuine need which should be taken seriously and afforded appropriate respect by the other.




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