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Designing gender-neutral washrooms and locker rooms

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INSIGHT - Diversity & Inclusion

Going gender neutral

 

As designers, we strive to make places of work as inclusive as possible for all users. A particularly sensitive issue that continually crops up, is the current practice of gender-based washrooms and locker rooms. This practice has existed in North America since the early 1800s and for our progressive clients, pushing the status quo in diversity and inclusion, this is a design ideology we are helping them change, by creating gender-neutral washrooms.

 

Labeling all people as either ‘male’ and ‘female’ and asking them to use associated facilities is going out of fashion. This practice alienates people who identify as neither or both. Washrooms and locker rooms are an important area of the workplace to get right, where privacy and a sense of security for all users is a top priority.

 

This is particularly a concern for Generation Z, being the new graduates currently entering the workplace. Generation Z is more accepting of diversity than older demographic groups. In a recent survey by the Bigeye Agency [1], they found Generation Z (Gen Z) treats biological sex (anatomy given at birth) as just a physical characteristic. Critically, Gen Z dissociates biological sex from gender, which they describe as a part of one’s identity. They view it more about how one feels, experiences life, and chooses to express oneself.

 

To address this inclusivity concern, we are helping organizations of all types convert their washrooms and locker rooms to a gender-neutral solution. Through our experience, we have developed a multi-user prototype that can easily convert from a gender-separate facility to a gender-neutral facility by simply removing two walls – future-proofing the design.

 

There are two prevailing design approaches to gender-neutral bathrooms: the single-occupancy and multi-user solution. The single-occupancy solution, although a step in the right direction towards gender inclusivity, still spatially isolates and excludes. Changing the signage on a single-user facility to a gender-neutral sign continues to reinforce segregation.

We consider a multi-user solution a better alternative

The multi-user approach eliminates the typical gender-segregated facilities that are characterized by American-style stalls, where revealing gaps at the floor, ceiling, and doors compromises visual privacy. Instead, the restroom is treated as a single-open space with full-height doors that ensure visual, and a better degree of acoustic privacy.

 

Our development has resulted in the creation of a core ‘wet area’ where the water closets and showers are in a central area. All the water closets and showers are fully enclosed in full-height walls and doors, providing complete visual and acoustic privacy. A continuous circulation path is provided so no dead-end corridors exist, increasing safety and security through two means of access.

Gender-separated design

Gender-neutral design

More importantly, the design prototype can start as a gender-separate facility and easily convert to a fully gender-neutral facility by simply removing two walls. As a result, this prototype is being leveraged in other parts of the company, to future-proof their hygiene needs. With this simple intervention, the washrooms, shower areas and locker rooms are all interconnected into an efficient gender-neutral hygiene facility, providing a safe and inclusive environment for all of their employees for years to come.

 

The feedback from our clients and their employees has been incredibly positive. We’re proud to be helping them build more inclusive places to work.

 

Find out more about our expertise in workplace design. 

 

[1]: Bigeye, ‘Gender: Beyond the Binary,’ https://www.bigeyeagency.com/insights/gender-beyond-the-binary/

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