Cynthia Nixon's Thermostat Request Is One Many Working Women Can Relate to
Tonight, the two Democratic candidates for New York state governor will go head to head in a political debate. One issue they’re split on isn’t part of either of their campaign platforms, though it’s probably something you and your co-workers have bickered about at some point this summer: air conditioning.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a longstanding reputation for requesting that the thermostat be set on the low side whenever he gives a big speech. The staff of Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s challenger, are aware of this preference. Erring on the side of sweating over shivering, a representative from Nixon’s team has asked that the temperature in the room at Hofstra University, where tonight’s debate will be broadcast from, be set to 76 degrees.
Nixon campaign strategist Rebecca Katz wrote this request in an email to debate host WCBS-TV, explaining that offices are “notoriously sexist when it comes to room temperature,” according to The New York Times.
Katz clarified to the Times that the 76-degree request wasn’t meant to be taken hard and fast. Rather, she wanted to make sure that the room wouldn’t be unbearably frigid. But her “notoriously sexist” assertion about workplaces generally is one backed up by scientific researchers.
Physiologically, men thrive in and prefer cooler temperatures than women do, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2015. It concluded that workplace thermostats skew cooler accordingly, but that the reasoning for this is outdated.
“Indoor climate regulations are based on an empirical thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s,” the study’s abstract reads. “Standard values for one of its primary variables -- metabolic rate -- are based on an average male, and may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35 percent.”
In other words, more men than women worked in the 1960s. Men’s metabolic rates cause them to feel warmer than women do, in the aggregate. And now, many office temperatures are more suitable for men than for women.
Then there’s the element of dress code: In professional settings, it’s standard for men to wear long pants, even in the summer, while women are often permitted to wear dresses that leave their arms and legs uncovered. So that might be another reason why women get chilly when the A/C is on full blast.
Companies have a hard time pleasing all of their employees. Sally wants almond milk in stock for her coffee. Ken wants a standing desk. Individual preferences are one thing, but when it comes to aspects that affect everyone -- like room temperature -- compromising can be tricky.
Still, it’s important for companies to question why conditions are the way they are, versus maintaining them just because “that’s the way things have always been.” The reasoning behind them might stem from some form of bias, gender or otherwise.