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Take back the thermostat, ladies

Take back the thermostat, ladies
The author's daughter, second from left, wore a zipped-up hoodie in preschool -- as did her two female friends -- while the two boys were comfy in t-shirts. (Tricia Bishop/Baltimore Sun)

A few years ago, after a story made the rounds saying women are always freezing at the office because temperatures are set based on the metobolic rates of men (who naturally run hotter), I posted a picture on Facebook of my daughter and four of her buddies seated around a preschool table. “Proof it starts young,” I wrote.

It was August. The two boys were in t-shirts; the three girls were in jackets — zippers up, hoods on. Apparently schools also use a version of “Fanger’s thermal comfort equation” to control their climates.

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It’s always been kind of a joke — at home, at the office, in classrooms: the women in layers, complaining of the cold, the men wondering what the big deal is. But we females may finally have the upper hand in the argument over where to set the thermostat. It turns out that warmer temperatures are better for the bottom line.

A study published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS One found that increasing the temperature by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) resulted in a 1 to 2 percent increase in women’s productivity, measured as correctly completing certain verbal or math problems. Male performances decreased slightly, but not enough to cancel out the gains made by women.

“Our findings suggest that mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards,” the L.A.-based researchers wrote.

Sweet vindication.

The thermometer I keep on my desk — because it came to that — shows The Baltimore Sun office low was at one point a chilly 58.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, we also have the opposite problem here, in our relatively new location in South Baltimore: The high was 85.1. I remain hopeful we’ll figure out a balance one day, and that it will land somewhere in the mid-70s.

It’s for the greater good. I actually prefer it a little cooler at work (I have an exercise bike and a treadmill at my desk that I put to regular use), but I feel for my colleagues in sweaters as they toil to put out the paper. And it’s better for the planet. Raising the temperature a few degrees in the summertime leads to lower energy consumption and less carbon dioxide emission, one of the researchers in the metabolic rates study pointed out.

That study, published in 2015, found that women’s metabolic rates run 20 to 30 percent lower (read: colder) than the standard rates used to set temperatures and that women generally like it about 5 Fahrenheit degrees warmer than men.

That plays out in my house, where my husband is always hot, and my daughter and I often the opposite. She wraps herself in a blanket at the breakfast table, and I’ve been known to wear an actual nightcap in winter (a gift from the family).

Perhaps, instead of the women having to layer up, the men could lighten up. “Sun’s out, guns out” was the suggestion from Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mims in a tweet referencing the productivity study. His “three-part proposal for making raising the temperature in the office a non-issue for men” also includes “business tank tops” and “dress shorts.”

I’m thinking something more along the lines of an elevated version of those hiking pants that zipper off at the knees or those man capris that Baltimore made popular in the early aughts. Perhaps homegrown designer Bishme Cromartie, who’s currently killing it on “Project Runway,” could come up with something for the boys.

The PLOS One study measured performance of 542 Germans subject to temperatures between 16 and 33 degrees Celsius (61 and 91 Fahrenheit). The hotter it got, the better the women produced.

Still, 91 seems a little extreme.

Women don’t want to work in a literal sweatshop. We just want to go without the sweater in summer.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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