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Studies show that women feel less comfortable at lower temperatures than men, and too-cold offices might be hampering their performance.

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At Ginella Massa’s old job, the last thing she thought she’d need at her desk was a Snuggie. Yet somehow, the zebra-striped blanket with sleeves made an appearance every single day.

“I always know [that] as soon as the warm weather hits, I have to start thinking about dressing for two climates,” says Ms. Massa, a TV news anchor based in Toronto. “Because it might be summer outside, but it’s always absolutely freezing inside the office. And that’s been the case at multiple jobs that I have worked.”

Ms. Massa’s experience may sound familiar. At least anecdotally, women have long complained that office temperatures are simply too cold, especially in the summer months.

“I certainly wasn’t the only one, because I’ve had my Snuggie stolen,” Ms. Massa says. “My friend who sat behind me also had her designated desk shawl.”

Vanessa Takin-Ndifon works at a pharmaceutical company in Mississauga, Ont. and has also felt weighed down by the office chill.

“On those freezing days, it’s my palms between my [legs], shivering to get some warmth from my own body, but knowing that I have to sit here for eight hours to do the work,” she says.

Her male colleagues, on the other hand, don’t seem to have an issue.

“The ones I ask always say, ‘Oh it seems fine to me,’ even though it’s not fine for the rest of us,” she laughs.

The science behind the chills

There’s a simple explanation for why women often feel cold in the office – the average office temperatures are typically set to cater to men’s comfort.

Taking into consideration factors like current air temperature, humidity, clothing and metabolic rate, a 2015 study found that women are comfortable at a temperature that is 2.5 degrees Celsius warmer than men (typically between 24-25 degrees Celsius). Yet the standard temperature for office thermostats was commonly set to suit the body composition of a 150-pound, 40-year-old man.

But what if these chillier temperatures aren’t just an inconvenience for women at the office, but something that actually affects their capacity to work? According to researchers, a too-cold office can absolutely affect women’s productivity.

Warmer temperature, better performance

After years of hearing women complain about cold office temperatures and experiencing it herself, Agne Kajackaite, head of a research group in ethics and behavioural economics at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, carried out a study to see how office temperatures affected women’s performance compared to men.

“What we found was that for women, with each Celsius degree increase in temperature, they got, for example, 1.8 per cent better in math.”

Dr. Kajackaite and her co-author also found that there was a wide gender gap in performance at lower temperatures. At 16 degrees Celsius, for example, men vastly outperformed women in both math and verbal tests. “However, when we increased the temperature,” Dr. Kajackaite says, “the gender gap disappears, and even reverses [so] that the women are better than the men.”

The pair also found that at higher temperatures, not only were the women getting better at the tasks, but they were also attempting to solve more tasks. “So when the temperature increases for men, nothing changed really. But for women, it changed and they were trying to solve more tasks,” Dr. Kajackaite says.

What to do?

According to Dr. Kajackaite, it’s nearly impossible to decide on a perfect temperature when you’re in a mixed environment. What’s important, she says, is that women’s comfort at the office be taken into account, including decisions about the thermostat.

“It’s not [just] that she’s cold, but also she’s probably less productive because she’s cold. That has to be taken seriously,” she says.

For Dr. Kajackaite, that means adjusting each thermostat in a way that considers the comfort of all staff at an office, instead of following an old set of rules designed to favour men.

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

Question: I’m in my 50s and trying to break into a new industry, and I actually feel like my experience level is holding me back. I don’t know if potential employers think I am overqualified or if they are just being ageist and prefer a younger candidate. How can I overcome the overqualified problem?

We asked Allison Colin-Thome, career coach at Career Off Script to field this one:

The first thing you must do, regardless of the specific issue, is change your mindset. You seem to be avoiding a critical review of the tangible steps you’re taking to support your career transition. Instead, you seem resigned to believe you are not succeeding because you are either (a) being discriminated against (eg. that employers are being ‘ageist’) or (b) have too much experience (a self-defence mechanism courtesy of your ego). Change your mindset to one of ownership and accountability. Ask yourself what you’re not doing in the steps you are taking to break into this new industry.

Let’s turn to your résumé. If you are trying to break into a new industry, your résumé should be formatted to speak to that new audience. Each time you submit a résumé, ensure it is written with the particular job posting in mind. Use the words they use, highlight your transferable skills and outline any accomplishments that are especially relevant to this new industry. Every industry will have its own language – ensure you are implementing this language when you are writing your résumé.

When you connect with recruiters and employers, be sure to outline all the advantages you have over the traditional candidate. Coming from another industry, you will have a range of ideas and experience to tap into that other candidates will not. Equally important is to communicate your long-term vision for your career in this industry. Employers want to know that you are planning a future in your chosen field – it shows ambition and drive. This is all the more necessary when you are switching industries, as some people may wonder whether you will stay long-term.

Also, what about additional training and education? The world of work changes so incredibly quickly that even the most seasoned employee needs to consistently enroll in certain courses and certifications to keep their skills relevant and sharp. Perhaps there is relevant training you can pursue that will help you transition.

The good news is, more and more people are switching industries, as the idea of spending a lifetime at one company is thankfully dying out. Although it can certainly be a challenging process, it is one that people do every day, at various stages of their career. It just takes a bit of critical thinking on the areas you may be falling short, and the areas where you shine.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? Email us at GWC@globeandmail.com.