This time of year is a shit-show for those of us stuck at desks: either the office is sweltering, a thin line of sweat bisects your cheek and falls onto your notebook, making it go all crinkly as it dries, or your teeth are chattering and you're getting no work done because you need to sit on your bloody hands to warm them up. And chances are, if you're a guy, you're going to fall into the former camp.
And that's because of sexism. No, really - researchers have found that air-conditioner defaults are set by decades-old formulas optimised for men.
According to a study published in Nature Climate Change by Maastricht University Medical Center last year, most building's thermostats use algorithms based on the resting metabolic rates (how fast we generate heat) developed in the 1960s for a forty-year-old man weighing eleven stone, whereas women actually require an environment that's 3°C warmer. It might not sound like a whole lot but, for women, the gender gap in temperature comfort in the workplace is very real.
Now new evidence goes further to explain why men and women disagree when it comes to the optimum temperature. In a post on The Conversation, Adam Taylor, Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre & Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at Lancaster University, has noted that regulating body temperature also has a lot to do with muscle mass, as well as the body's metabolic rate when at rest, which is known to be higher among men than women.
The body's natural response to cold - shivering - is its desperate attempt to stimulate some energy in your muscles, and more muscles equals more energy. Combining that with the fact that, while most women have larger areas of thicker skin than men (and so usually have more subcutaneous fat), which you'd presume would help, it actually means that it takes even longer for women to warm up, so it's no wonder there's tension in the office.
“When you take into consideration skin thickness, subcutaneous fat thickness and muscle mass," says Taylor, "it becomes clear that although female muscles shiver the same as those in the male, their thicker insulating layer potentially means that the heat generated takes longer to get through to the outer layers of the skin, where the temperature-sensing free nerve endings are located.”
So next time your female colleagues start ever-so-subtly reaching for their desk-blankets, it'll probably be a good idea to just start wearing t-shirts again.