A new study reveals the unintended sexism of open office spaces

Open office plans: You either love them or hate them. Many argue that the pros include a more collaborative and egalitarian professional space. However, others might tell you they’re distracting, provide little-to-no privacy, and, as a recent study suggests, are actually breeding grounds for subtle sexism.

Alison Hirst of Anglia Ruskin University and Christina Schwabenland of the University of Bedfordshire researched sexism in open office spaces by studying and interviewing a group of 1,000 local U.K. government employees as they transitioned from a traditional office space to an open floor plan. Hirst and Schwabenland noted in their study, which was published in the journal of Gender, Work and Organization, that many female employees they interviewed over a three year-period said they became hyperaware of being watched within the glass-walled space.

Interestingly, none of the men interviewed felt like their privacy was compromised or felt anxiety about being scrutinized.

Although open offices aim to knock down hierarchies within a workplace, the researchers realized that a sexist hierarchy still exists and even thrives in these types of spaces.


Hirst and Schwabenland noted that it’s been sociologically proven that “men in particular, often in groups, look obsessively at women,” meaning the glass-walled offices could make for voyeuristic tendencies. One female employee even confided to the researchers that her male teammates used the open plan to rank the “attractiveness” of women entering the office for interview.

The feeling of being both watched and scrutinized led the female office workers to dress differently, wear more makeup, and even bottle feelings because of the lack of private space to deal with their emotions.

It should be noted that some of the women did feel as though the open space helped contribute to a spirit of equality and cooperation, meaning that the findings could come down to personal preference and personality. However…they might not. What are your thoughts?

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