Gender differences in workspace design.

While it’s risky to generalise about gender differences at the workplace, it is worth considering the differences objectively.

For decades there has been an equality divide in the workforce and men are told to think more like a woman while women are told to be a boss like a man, however this only defines the stereotypes that women are more empathetic and men are more aggressive.....can workspace design bridge this gap and positively harness the characteristics of men and women so each sex can benefit from the differences and blur the lines...?

One of the main differences between the sexes leads to multiple workspace arrangements that can alter and encourage certain behaviours, this is the difference between cellular and open plan spaces. Typically, women are more inclined to work in an open plan environment, whereas men prefer their offices in a more hierarchical arrangement, workspace design can of course cater for both styles of space within a floor plate, however despite these differences research shows that these attributes are not so black and white and that gender diversity is not just a numbers game, for example women who exhibit more masculine orientated traits such as confidence and aggression were given more promotions in the last year than their male counterparts – the key is to target these differences as strengths and utilise the working environment to empower individuals with choice on how they wish to behave.

Women being more open plan based workers comes from the social and communicative aspect, women prefer to be around team members, collaborating and discussing the day to day activities resulting in a much larger percentage of women to men asking for additional challenges to take on due to working in open plan and feeling like they have the back up of the wider team, whereas men prefer to work alone and come from a more ‘modern day cave man’ style of looking at tasks in a competitive nature, therefore trying to position themselves for the win and so are less likely to encourage team building and growth in other individuals. In workplace design this can be a challenge as it is rare a job can be done solely by one person and so environments must be created that are social and collaborative but give the sense of enclosed ‘protected’ space, such as project rooms for teams to gather in and brainstorm instead of these being solely open plan, collaborative spaces, which can also exist but with the combination of the two styles this gives the element of comfort for all individuals and empowers men to be more involved within a team.

Additionally, men lean more towards working remotely – reinforcing the lone wolf traits, and so offices can actually become a secondary space, this means that looking at workspace design can become a percentage game and the allocated amount of desk spaces can be reduced to around 70% of the headcount. This benefits both sexes as it enables the rest of the floor plate to become a more flexible environment, with plenty of plug and play spaces, open and private, for when flexi workers do need to touch down in the office and this also positively reinforces the feeling in open plan, mostly dominated by women, as it will not be a sea of empty desks, and it also provides the more fixed workers with spaces to move to as required. Additionally, this will require a larger allowance for technology, as rooms are more likely to require video conferencing to dial in with the more male heavy flexi workers, or designing Skype style rooms, which acknowledges a more typical trait for men also, who adjust to technology far quicker than women typically do, allowing them to flexi work more confidently, where women tend to shy away from embracing these notions.

In this instance a larger breakout space is ideal to allow for flexi as well as fixed workers to congregate together, encouraging open communication while out of a work setting and so both genders feel more comfortable outside of a competitive or hierarchical environment....these styles of spaces are where the lines are truly blurred and so resonate through to the working environment with both genders positively reinforcing each other and so for example women will embrace

technology more if its open to them and men will feel more inclined to collaborate as part of a team.

A trait that both sexes encourage is personalising their individual working areas, and studies show that this level of creature comfort increases productivity in the same way designing workspaces to mimic the home does – however this is done in a slightly different way; women tend to lean towards family orientated personalisation whereas men will display achievement recognition, however the theory is the same. As a result, one thing this does show is that the new trend in unallocated desk layouts is likely to have a negative impact in the first instance, making people feel less comfortable and even creating cliques in the workforce with people choosing to sit with only their ‘group’ and therefore hindering productivity.

This isn’t to say that after a period of adjustment individuals won’t get used to this arrangement, like many changes during office relocation, however more detail should be given to individuals and teams, as well as genders and age groups to create a truly well thought through working environment focussed on productivity and wellbeing, two trends that cannot be ignored.

One size does not fit all in workspace design and so there must be multiple work settings to suit a diverse workforce.

“A team doesn't have to be 50 percent women and 50 percent men for it to be balanced...but the degree to which the masculine and feminine qualities are represented and are utilized well is the essence of balance.”