Creating more inclusive washrooms

Armitage Shanks Offices Washrooms

Over the last century, we’ve watched as washrooms have transformed from being purely functional spaces into inclusive environments reflecting the changing needs of a progressive society. An early example of this was the significant rise in awareness of gender equality in the latter half of the 20th century, which quickly led to more diverse workspaces. This in turn resulted in the general need for more accommodating washrooms.

Designing modern washrooms for different genders is a key area covered in our recently released academic whitepaper, Creating Better Washrooms. The study surveyed both end users of washrooms and design professionals who build them to provide insights into the factors that govern modern washroom design and how designers can better respond to end users’ needs.


Differences in behaviour

The report suggested that women tend to use workplace washrooms more frequently than men. Around half of women surveyed used the space more than three times a day, whereas this figure was closer to a third with men. At the same time, there are slight differences in behaviour between genders when it comes to how they use the washroom.


For example, it would seem mirrors and vanity furniture are likely to be used more by women, as the report suggested that women use workplace washrooms to check their appearance and change their clothes more frequently than men. The study also found that women prioritise cleanliness and hygiene more in these spaces, with 48% wanting more hands-free technology installed and 46% expecting to have odour-masking toiletries provided.


Insight-driven design

Moving into the 21st century, the topic of gender, and even what defines it as a concept, has become a much talked about and culturally sensitive issue. The public bathroom has somewhat been drawn into this public discussion, with many arguing the need for gender-neutral washrooms. So, are designers ensuring they’re meeting current and future requirements when creating these spaces? Our report suggested not, uncovering a number of findings indicating that more consideration needs to be given to gender-related issues in workspaces.


Despite the widespread focus on gender in modern culture, only around one in five of the design professionals surveyed thought it would be an influential factor in the creation of commercial washrooms in the next five years. Reflecting this, a similar percentage of end users reported that their offices contain additional gender-neutral facilities. If there has been a societal shift in modern views around gender, it seems as though this is not being widely catered for in today’s office spaces. 


As society becomes more inclusive, the need to accommodate transgender and non-binary communities is becoming more widely recognised across Europe. When presented with our results, design historian and author of Women Design Libby Sellers made the point that “as we tackle all forms of workplace discrimination, design professionals have a great opportunity to go beyond the traditional gender binary of bathrooms.”


As well as examining gender in the modern washroom, our Creating Better Washrooms report also includes useful findings on current perceptions around factors such as sustainability, user wellbeing and smart technology. The conclusion? That sustained collaboration with stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain, as well as end users, is the key to delivering washrooms that go beyond mere function and truly benefit society. It’s something we’re committed to at Armitage Shanks: working with partners and the wider industry to implement evidence-based design so that commercial washrooms not only play a central role in improving profitability, but ask genuinely enhance the lives of those who use them. Our Washroom Architecture brochure addresses these key needs of the washroom, and you can find more insights and exclusive findings by downloading the full Creating Better Washrooms report.

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