Potty Parity: Process Flexibility via Unisex Restroom

60 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2021 Last revised: 23 Jul 2023

See all articles by Setareh Farajollahzadeh

Setareh Farajollahzadeh

McGill University - Desautels Faculty of Management

Ming Hu

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Date Written: December 9, 2021


We address unequal restroom access for women and LGBTQ+ individuals, known as the ``potty parity" problem. We propose a utility model where users consider gender identity, wait time, and safety concerns when choosing restrooms. We evaluate different layouts' efficiency by total utilities (totalitarian principle) and assess their fairness using minimum utility gain (Rawlsian fairness) and the gap between maximum and minimum gains (distributive fairness). While it may initially seem intuitive to assume that converting all restrooms to unisex facilities would be efficient due to the pooling of servers and increased flexibility and fairness due to all users standing in the same line, our findings demonstrate that this design can be neither efficient nor fair. In contrast, we show that converting some of the men's restrooms to unisex facilities can enhance both efficiency and fairness of access. This highlights that a moderate level of flexibility can surpass a fully flexible system. Moreover, conventional wisdom suggests that removing a unit of restroom from the men's room would negatively impact users from the men's side. However, our analysis reveals a counterintuitive result that such a change can lead to a Pareto improvement, benefiting all users involved. We also analytically explore additional benefits of unisex restrooms under different user behaviors and situations and present numerical results to support our findings.

Keywords: gender equality, process flexibility, potty parity, queueing games

JEL Classification: D63, I31

Suggested Citation

Farajollahzadeh, Setareh and Hu, Ming, Potty Parity: Process Flexibility via Unisex Restroom (December 9, 2021). Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 3914880, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3914880 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3914880

Setareh Farajollahzadeh (Contact Author)

McGill University - Desautels Faculty of Management ( email )

1001 Sherbrooke St. West
Montreal, Quebec H3A1G5 H3A 2M1

Ming Hu

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management ( email )

105 St. George st
Toronto, ON M5S 3E6
416-946-5207 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://ming.hu

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