Air conditioning temperatures 'ignore female metabolic rate'
S exual discrimination is being practised in offices right across the UK (and the world), research suggests.
That may come as no surprise to women who find their career progression blocked by an impenetrable "glass ceiling".
But the findings do not relate to the way female employees are treated at work - only the air conditioned buildings they work in.
Indoor climate control systems are partly based on the resting metabolic rate of an average 40-year-old man, say scientists. They may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35%.
What this means is that women are likely to feel less than comfortable in modern air conditioned offices.
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer.
Their metabolic rates, significantly lower than the "standard values" currently employed to set office temperatures, suggested they required less cooling in summer than men.
Study authors Dr Boris Kingma and Professor Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change: "Thermal comfort models need to adjust the current metabolic standard by including the actual values for females.
"Consequently, thermal comfort models need either to be recalibrated or enhanced using a biophysical approach ... This in turn will allow for better predictions of building energy consumption, by reducing the bias on thermal comfort of sub-populations and individuals."
Current air conditioning standards are derived from research conducted in the 1960s that assessed the "thermal comfort" of 1,300 mainly sedentary students.
It took into account a value for metabolic rate, which was based on the resting metabolic rate of one 70 kilogram (11 stone) 40-year-old man.
But women's metabolic rates are typically very different from men's, the researchers point out. So much so that the standard model used to set indoor temperatures may overestimate the amount of heat generated by a woman sitting still by up to 35%.
Metabolic rate also lowered with increasing age.
"Thus, current indoor climate standards may intrinsically misrepresent thermal demand of the female and senior sub-propulations," said the scientists.
This in turn was likely to make office heating and cooling systems less energy efficient than they could be, they added. The authors called for a new system that takes into account gender differences, as well as age and physiological characteristics such as being lean or obese.
In a "News & Views" commentary in the journal, Dr Joost van Hoof from Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, wrote: "These findings could be significant for the next round of revisions of thermal comfort standards - which are on a constant cycle of revision and public review - because of the opportunities to improve the comfort of office workers and the potential for reducing energy consumption.
"A large scale re-evaluation in field studies may be needed in order to sufficiently convince real-estate developers, standard committees and building services engineers to revise their practises."