Women In Tech

Open Office setup makes Women feel more Vulnerable and Impacts their Productivity

Some people’s dream jobs include having a big office high up in the skyscraper where you can have a bird’s eye view of the city down. A cherry on top would be having either a nice view of the sunrise or sunset, if not both. However, most of these dreamers end up consoling themselves with the old adage; ‘if wishes were horses, then “women” could fly.’

Truth be told, most companies are adopting a minimalistic approach to anything and everything that bumps up overhead. Office space is one of those things, and frankly, most employers prefer open office setup because it is cost-effective.

The staff can easily share office equipment and the set up inherently reduces some ‘infrastructural’ costs like internet connection outlays among other things. It is, therefore, safe to say, that open office setup is here to stay. At least for the companies big on reducing overhead costs.

Women are uncomfortable in Open Office

Personally, I work best when there are no distractions within my vicinity. An open office has a lot of distractions that could dampen your productivity. You may be seated at your desk trying to do your work, and a colleague is making rackets behind you. Obviously, you will have to work extra hard to focus on the work at hand.

Interestingly, a study published in the journal Science Direct by researchers from the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand found out that women’s productivity was dampened in open office compared to men. The reason behind that is, women feel more exposed, watched, observed, and visible when in an open office than men.

The Anxiety of Open Office

Female staffers can get so anxious while working in an open office set up. That they make a conscious decision on which route to take while walking around the office and which routes to avoid.

Things get more difficult for introverts and shy female employees as they will be constantly thinking about who is judging them. In their minds, they can easily blow out of proportion normal things that happen to everybody like bad hair day and wardrobe accidents among other minor things.

The male staffers, on the other hand, are not affected like women when working in an open office setup. So naturally, all other factors held constant, the men will definitely have higher productivity working in open office setup.

So if there are any rewards (bonuses, salary increments, promotions, etc.) to be awarded based on productivity. More men than women will bag those awards. Perpetuating what we have historically seen in the corporate world; men get higher pay, promoted faster through the corporate ladder, and getting more bonuses. Yet, both men and women were given the same starting position at the organization, with equal work and equal pay. However, as time goes by, the men’s productivity won them more perks in the job compared to women.

The Solutions

It would be easy to suggest that employers stop putting up open office layouts for their employees. However, that is not practical from so many angles, including the fact that the employer might not afford closed offices for all the staff.

Well, the researchers at the Auckland University of Technology suggest that employers will do their female staffers a ‘solid’ by:

Putting them near amenities so they don’t have to walk across the office with ‘gawking eyes’ scanning their body from top to bottom for an extended period.

Not placing the female staff’s desk in a position with walkways behind them

This research brings to light some pertinent issues in the quest for gender equality in the workplace. While feminist and people of sane minds fight for inclusivity and equal opportunity at the workplace. They now need to address the psychological dynamics once the desired inclusivity has been achieved. One such dynamics is what this research brings to the fore.

Milicent Atieno

Proud Kenyan Citizen, loving everything Tech related.

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