Ben Bartle-Ross asks whether the air conditioning industry is doing enough for females

I saw various news reports just before Christmas asking whether air conditioning was sexist such as the one in the Independent newspaper under the headline “Office thermostats may be sexist according to research”.

The report referenced a study in the journal Nature Climate Change which stated that the formula for most set temperatures is based on a 40-year old man weighing around 154 pounds, that’s about 11 stone or 70kg in today’s money.

Whilst offices can still sometimes divide between the sexes when it comes to whether the room is too hot or too cold, I’ve got some basic issues with this.  

The primary issue for me therefore is ensuring proper control of an air conditioning system

Ben Bartle Ross6 Ben Bartle-Ross Technical Trainer

Somewhat dated data

Firstly, the study that the article refers to was published in 2015 and is based on a model formula from the 1960’s, so it is somewhat dated now.

In addition to this, if an 11-stone man is the ‘average’ then there will also be a lot of men that don’t fit that ‘ideal’ and regardless of the different metabolisms it won’t just be a female problem.

One could even argue that 11 stone is not enough for the average 40-year old male as we all seem to be getting taller and larger as a species, so basing your air conditioning on such a formula does not seem to make sense anymore!

Secondly, we have seen vast developments in both air conditioning technologies and advances in the controls for them, so that we can readily achieve much better off-coil temperatures now, thereby reducing the impression of ‘draughts’.

Other advances

The primary issue for me therefore is ensuring proper control of an air conditioning system – after it has been correctly sized, designed, installed and commissioned of course.

Other advances now include automatic sensors that can detect the body temperatures of individuals in the room and adjust the heating or cooling to suit.

Yes it still needs the engineer or facilities manager to ensure that the parameters are programmed correctly but again, with modern controls, this is something that can be adjusted easily and remotely, so it should not be beyond anyone to achieve an ideal setting for the majority of occupants in a room, whether male or female.

Where are all the female engineers?

The other fact that I found interesting in the Independent report was the reference to the number of females now in the workplace compared to the 60’s when the formula was first created.  According to the report, around 47 per cent of the workforce in our buildings now is female.

As a trainer of air conditioning and heat pump engineers, I meet a lot of people and whilst it gladdens me that we have a better balance of male/female in the workplace, I simply can’t say the same about the balance in my classrooms.

So why is the HVAC industry still dominated by men?

And how do we encourage more females to consider it as a career?

I’d be happy for any thoughts on this so please email with any comments and let’s see if we can make a difference.

Ben Bartle Ross is a Technical Trainer at Mitsubishi Electric and also writes this column for ACR Journal magazine. 

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