Diversity in Constructions: Who are our cities built for?

In this blog post, I will touch upon a not often thought of topic. How do architecture and physical details add to the lack of diversity in our workplaces?

I have been thinking about this for a while because for a long time, ever since I have been in cold countries, for example, Canada, UK, US and have been in a shared office, I have had to have an extra of 4-5 layers always on the back of my chair handy in case I needed them. And I inevitably needed them. Sometimes, the overall office temperature was just too low, otherwise my office mates (inevitably males) would get really hot and open the window. Now, this very innocent sounding details can be very very mischievous. Here is how. Every day, I would ask if I could close the window, once and then twice and would be too embarrassed the third time since it is hard to repeat the same things over and over again, and of course, their problem of feeling too hot was also legitimate. However, the age old adage of compromise for females usually clicked into my brain and even though I would try to push hard to stay there and work, the cold temperature would not allow me to after a bare half an hour and I would make some or the other excuse and go home for the day.

I was also very aware that this made me feel/seem like I was working less than others, so I worked weekends and week nights leading to a high level of mental stress. Not being in the office at strategic times also made me feel a little disconnected from many people who would eventually come to matter by the time I needed recommendations. This in a larger picture eventually leads to gender gaps. The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male.

So, while I was thinking this, I never actively tried to look for data to see what that problem was and how to address this problem which was clearly structural. And a few days ago, I stumbled upon this article which presented the following data:

“The formula to determine standard office temperature was developed in the 1960s around the metabolic resting rate of the average man. But a recent Dutch study found that the metabolic rate of young adult females performing light office work is significantly lower than the standard values for men doing the same activity. In fact, the formula may overestimate female metabolic rate by as much as 35%, meaning that current offices are on average five degrees too cold for women. This leads to the odd sight of female office workers wrapped in blankets in the summer, while their male colleagues wander around in shorts.

Not only is this situation inequitable, it is bad business sense: an uncomfortable workforce is an unproductive workforce. But workplace data gaps lead to a lot worse than simple discomfort and inefficiency. Over the past 100 years, workplaces have, on the whole, got considerably safer. In the early 1900s, about 4,400 people in the UK died at work every year. By 2016, that figure had fallen to 135. But while serious injuries at work have been decreasing for men, there is evidence that they have been increasing among women. The gender data gap is again implicated, with occupational research traditionally focused on male-dominated industries.”

The link to the whole article is here for those of you curious cats who want to know more.

But here you go! Now, this is an example towards a very very important realisation. I was once told by a physicist, “if you are feeling confused about something, it’s because there is something new to learn there. It’s not invalid. ” And it applies to life! If you are uncomfortable, then it is probably because of a reason, and often it might be structural and wide spread. So talking and researching about these things might actually lead us to build more diverse, inclusive and efficient workplaces rather than blindly following data. As always, the question to ask is what are the possible causations towards a correlation?

And a more immediate question. What are the ways we can go towards unbuilding our gendered city and work spaces and work towards more contemporary inclusive architecture?

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