Tightrope Bias refers to the pressure that women face to behave in feminine ways while also demonstrating their fitness for careers that reward stereotypically masculine behaviors, including aggression, competition, self-promotion and assertiveness. If women fail to behave in stereotypically feminine ways, they face agency penalties that censure them for violating appropriate gender norms. Agency Penalties refer to negative career outcomes that penalize women for engaging in behaviors typically associated with men. However, by not behaving aggressively or assertively, women may be viewed as weak and incapable of the demands of the profession. Hence, women must walk a proverbial tightrope for colleagues to view them as gender appropriate and professionally successful. This often involves highly controlled emotional performances where women avoid displays that can confirm pernicious stereotypes about women’s emotional instability.
A more senior associate who is female was talking about how in Utah, especially when you work with attorneys who are LDS and you are a woman and you are very direct, LDS male attorneys are generally not used to that….She is very direct and apparently that is getting her into a group where she is just considered bitchy and she’s not sure if her prospects of becoming a partner are being diminished by the fact that her personality is being seen as not conventional for women in Utah.
In the national survey, women of all races experienced pressures to behave in feminine ways and faced backlash for agentic behaviors viewed as too masculine or unfeminine. In Utah, over a third of White women (38%) and a quarter of women of color (25%) reported that they get pushback when they behave assertively. Similarly, women of all races (34%) reported that when they express anger at work, their colleagues react negatively. Only 12% of men reported receiving negative reactions when they expressed anger at work. Women lawyers in Utah also reported that there is very little margin for raising concerns or complaints in the workplace. Significant numbers of White women (43%) and women of color (34%) reported that they are expected to work hard, avoid confrontation and not complain, compared to 21% of men.