Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Gender germ battle is only the tip of the iceberg

September 19, 2010
By now, I’m sure you have heard of, read about, watched on TV or viewed on the Internet, the story about a study that found women have far more germs in their workplaces than men.

This gender germ battle story was everywhere, reported in newspapers all across the country, carried on national TV, and bantered about on Internet bulletin boards and blogs.

For a minute, I thought we had found a cure for the common cold.

We hadn’t.

But studies such as these are like cupid’s arrow when it comes to human interest. They make us ponder and ask the obvious.

Cleaning up with Clorox
The study comes from the desk of Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona.

Gerba, whose research is partially financed by disinfectant maker Clorox, has been in the news before talking about the germiest jobs (teachers), that your office desk harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average office toilet seat, and that 60 percent of office coffee cups contain fecal bacteria.

Now, it’s women, not men, and their workplaces that are much more germier.

Who would have thought it?
I would have never known, as Gerba reports, that women have bacteria levels in their offices that are nearly three times higher than in men’s offices.

Nor would I have known that keyboards and computer mice used by women have three to four times more germs than those used by men.

And most surprising, I would have never guessed that women’s desk drawers have seven times more germs than men’s drawers.

Imagine that — seven times?

But why?

Gerba and his research team point to alarming concentrations of mold in women’s drawers because they serve as mini-food pantries. Presumably, some men are still taking two-martini lunch breaks away from the office and aren’t eating at their desks.

Gerba’s study also notes that women’s makeup, stashed in desk drawers, harbors germs. Suffice to say a woman has got to look her best anywhere, anytime, and men are more interested in looking out for women than themselves.

Finally, one of Gerba’s most alarming discoveries is that one-third of women’s handbags had fecal material on the bottom, probably because they’d been placed on restroom floors. No argument here; if a man doesn’t carry one, he can’t get it dirty.

The real battle lines
So what does this all mean?

I’d like to offer this reflection: Let’s not get caught up in the gender battle. It’s not really a matter of women and their workplaces being germier than men and their workplaces. As a matter of fact, the real battle is us against the germs.

If you read between the lines of the last of Gerba’s findings that I recounted, the one that says one-third of women’s handbags had fecal material on the bottom, you have to ask yourself this: How well are cleaning staffs in office buildings around the country cleaning the restrooms they service?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. That same cleaning crew doesn’t clean the men’s restroom any better than the women’s restroom.

Contemplate this for a minute or two, what are men (and women) tracking back out with their shoes on to the carpet in office hallways and cubicles when they return from a restroom visit?

Certainly Gerba’s research has merit when it reports that a woman may eat at her desk more often than a man, or that a woman may powder her nose and a man doesn’t, which accounts for different levels of germiness on someone’s desk.

But the real value in Gerba’s work is that it puts in proper perspective the importance of what professional cleaning and maintenance staffs do on a daily basis.