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Is your furniture plotting against you?

Disclaimer: Everything stated below is in relation to *most* jobs. Of course, if you’re in any industry focused on beauty or fashion, this will not apply to you.

 

Hello, Precious Readers!

 

Thank you to everyone who participated or visited the Night Owl Reviews Spring Fling Scavenger Hunt this year. It was a joy to be a part of it, and I’ve already been notified of the winners. I hope you were one of them!

 

Yesterday, I came across an article suggesting that modern-day office design is subtly sexist. I won’t go into details, you can read the article for yourselves. If you’re a longtime blog follower, you know that I used to be a massive workaholic. The stereotypical office drone commuting for long hours, sitting at a desk, and staring at a computer. As a writer, I still do this, but it’s a desk space of my choosing (my home), and I’m surrounded by things and style that bring me peace of mind, not what an architect and interior designer decided that I needed in my life.

 

Also, I’m old enough to remember the days when cubicles were first popularized and ceiling-to-floor length walls separated each individual by those fuzzy, gray, sound softening panels. After a few decades of this style, scientists decided that the top-to-bottom walls were unhealthy for humans by causing isolation, depression, and other physical and mental illnesses. Thus, a new era was born: the day the walls came down.

 

Those in the current workforce or just entering are probably more familiar with employees working in spaces where cubicle walls barely reach the average-height-adult’s sitting position shoulder height, if there are walls at all. Desks are also “open concept” providing a reduction in “visual noise,” often with table legs instead of solid panels covering the person from the waist down. There are no longer walls or dividers, but open glass to provide as much natural light as possible and a transparent view to encourage accountability and teamwork.

office

 

While I don’t fully agree with the article regarding women feeling the need to make additional effort beyond their normal routine, I will point out that open concept does not necessarily keep women’s needs in mind.

 

The article made me think back on how I would dress myself. I dressed according to the general office policies, but didn’t make any additional effort with hair and makeup unless I felt like it. I spent most of my life as a tomboy, so if someone didn’t think it was “feminine” enough for me to not style my hair or wear makeup, tough cookies for them. If someone judged me on it — that’s creating a hostile environment. If someone is judging me on my looks to meet the judging person’s idea of “attractiveness” — that’s sexual harassment. I have confidence enough in myself to know that my looks are no one else’s concern except mine. If someone is using my looks against me and stifling my career because I’m not “feminine” or “pretty enough” — that’s sexism.

 

For anyone judged based on someone else’s opinion about your looks and/or are being rated by someone else’s idea of an idiotic scale of “attractiveness,” I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. AT ALL.

 

Having said that, I’ve worked several different styles of jobs, which came with several different styles of environments. This includes the “open concept” desk space. As a woman, society is *crawling* into the 21st Century where our needs are actually thought of in a respected and conscientious manner as human beings, but we have a looong way to go. Once in a while I like to wear skirts, whether long or short. However, whenever I leave my home and I’m wearing a shorter skirt, I have to think if my legs will be covered by the furniture or not. I am not a thin person. It is highly uncomfortable to cross my legs. Doctors have proven that crossing your legs is bad for your posture, your hip and knee alignment, and can cause long-term back problems. I tend to cross my ankles, but doing that for long periods of time (say ~6.5 hours of actual desk time excluding lunches and times to get up and go to other areas and walking) is also highly uncomfortable. This also doesn’t negate the fact that if a skirt’s hem is anywhere close to your knee-length, or shorter, if there isn’t enough fabric to politely tuck between our knees, we run the risk of accidentally flashing our underthings to people. Does this make sense to you? For women to be considered “feminine” we should wear dresses or skirts, but skirts don’t always function to allow women to sit comfortably? This has never made sense to me. Probably why I mostly stick to pants.

 

I have a secret for anyone who has never worn a dress or skirt before: women like to sit without having to cross our legs! There’s also the issue of “manspreading” on seats, but that’s a different discussion: In short, please don’t “manspread” on public transportation or spaces. It’s rude, disgusting, and completely encroaching on personal bubbles. If it’s a public space, that means it’s PUBLIC and the space DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU. Women’s personal space is a HUMAN RIGHT, not a privilege for someone else to take away. It is not for anyone else to decide where that boundary line is except for that individual woman.

 

A simple “love shout out” to any restaurant or office space that actually covers a person from the waist down either by long-length tablecloths or desk design, respectfully. I love you. Thank you.

 

Long before reading the article, I binge-watched seasons of Cupcake Wars* on Hulu* and remember thinking how badly I felt for the female judges for the show. Being on TV, the host and judges must look flawless (and do! You’re fabulous!), but that often includes being up-to-date on fashion. Add in the judges table does not have a front panel, and I sadly empathized episode after episode, season after season, with the female judges. Realizing for a majority of the show, the women are dressed in dresses and skirts at, or slightly above, the knee. While the men sit comfortably with their feet at hip-width, their shoes resting on the floor or bar stool shoe ledge (not quite sure what that’s called, but I hope you understand what I’m talking about), the ladies either sit with their legs crossed the entire time or perch on the edge of their seat at an angle to keep their waist from the camera’s (and America’s) view.

table

 

The show is only 22 minutes long of air time, but if you think about the actual amount of time spent on that set for each episode: filming time, the prep for each round, the length of each actual round (some are 2 hours), cleanup after each round, the judges deliberation time, etc. That’s a FULL DAY. I imagine easily OVER 12 HOURS OF SITTING ON THAT CHAIR. With your legs crossed. Hoping you don’t have a “paparazzi” moment on (inter)national television.

 

Does that sound comfortable to you? Not to me. My back, hips, and knees ache at the thought of it.

 

I wear pants and shorts so I can be comfortable. Not to please anyone else. I wear skirts and dresses to please myself if I feel like wearing one. Not to please anyone else. However, watching these women try to emulate being comfortable while constantly wondering if their underwear is flashed on camera, all I could think of were times I dressed and fretted over what I was wearing — if my destination would be skirt/dress friendly… if I should even bother wearing a skirt or dress so I didn’t have to deal with that headache.

 

One part of the article that I found rang true was the idea of privacy. In an open office plan, if you need to make a private phone call, there is no reprieve. You often have to leave the building. My last corporate job, they had the right idea, and I’m grateful for it. While they believed in an open floor plan, they had created one-person, door-closing, private “pods.” These were workspaces if an employee needed to conference call or do virtual training with clients. Although it was created with the intention of eliminating background noise during training, it also allowed a temporary private space to talk without the background sounds of, “Whoo! Did you catch the Seahawks last night!” or “Did you hear about X lately?” or “Who took my lunch from the refrigerator? It had my name on it!” It had a second benefit of, if an employee was caring for dependents and received an unexpected call from their dependent, they could take the call quickly without divulging their personal and private information to the whole office.

 

 

Overall, I want you to know that I like open-concept offices. I think they inspire creativity, collaboration, teamwork, and provides a bright work environment. However, if you plan to have this design, it is critical to have a few “office pods” available for people. Make the desks have a front panel for privacy and comfort for your employees (if they want it). Also, in an ideal world, people wouldn’t be judged on their looks for their careers. Don’t get me wrong: I do believe in a required level of personal hygiene and gender neutral dress codes that apply to everyone.

 

*Not a sponsor.

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