It’s a sweltering 92 degrees outside, which can only mean one thing: Co-workers are arguing over the office thermostat.
The debate over the proper office temperature during the summer was given new life Tuesday, as the team for Cynthia Nixon, who is running against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the New York Democratic Party primary, suggested that room temperatures were “notoriously sexist” in being geared toward the comfort level of most men.
People immediately responded on social media.
Kerry Howley, a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa, who wrote on Twitter that she never “felt more invested in a political debate,” said her remark was meant to be facetious. But she said Nixon’s request for the temperature to be 76 degrees was perfectly reasonable.
“I feel like cold office temperatures are a burden that are placed on women,” she said.
She added: “I feel like it affects performance in a way that is surprising to people. I become less effusive, less articulate, less extroverted when I’m uncomfortable with the temperature.”
Nixon is set to debate Cuomo on Wednesday, and she has requested the temperature in the debate hall be set to 76 degrees. Cuomo is notorious for preferring chilly conditions at his public appearances.
Research lends support to the Nixon campaign’s claim that office temperatures are based on male preferences. A 2015 study said temperatures in most office buildings are set based on a decades-old formula that relies on the metabolic rates of men. The authors of the study argued for reducing “gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because raising temperatures could help combat global warming.
But 76 degrees? Many thought that was excessive.
“Usually I think about 68 is pretty standard,” said Jeanne Sager, a social media editor from Callicoon Center, New York. “It’s not so warm that people are schvitzing but not so cold that I couldn’t type.”
In past work experiences, Sager, who said she is always cold, described “a rarely spoken of war” over the thermostat between her and many of her male co-workers.
Marc Starvaggi, an incoming graduate student at New York University, wrote on Twitter, “Until men are allowed to wear shorts to work, there is no way a building should be 76 DEGREES.”
He hypothesized that the debate over office temperature derives in part from how employees are expected to dress in the workplace.
“I had to wear a button-down shirt and I’m sweating and they have a blanket on because they’re wearing a dress or a skirt,” Starvaggi said in describing past work experiences.
When Debra Cohen was looking for new jobs, she focused her search on positions where she could work from her home in Tampa, Florida, in part because of the temperature of office buildings. She was successful in her search and now works from home as a call center representative. With full control over the thermostat, her preferred temperature is 76 degrees.
“I can keep the temperature where I like it, and I don’t find myself freezing to death sitting at my desk,” she said.
Even the candidates’ aides joined in on the Twitter debate.
Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, posted a picture of the governor’s dog, Captain, lying in ice. She said he was “recovering from attending debate prep in Team Nixon’s preferred temperature.”
But, L. Joy Williams, an adviser to Nixon, insinuated that her request was part of a strategy. She posted a GIF and wrote, “Maybe you say 76 degrees and get 65 degrees, instead of freezing at 50.”
Despite the divide over the ideal temperature, the response to Nixon’s request highlighted a pervasive issue in the workplace.
“I think this is part of what sexism is,” Starvaggi said. “It’s not just mistreatment of women, but it is these norms and expectations that society have of men and women.”
Howley added: “It just seems to me that it’s an outdated equilibrium that we all live in. I was genuinely excited to see Cynthia Nixon challenging that equilibrium.”