The second bias, “tightrope,” refers to when women often find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be competent or too masculine to be likable.
Based on the interviews reported by Williams and colleagues, Asian women had to compete with other women for a “woman’s spot” –i.e, a position intended to be filled by a woman—at higher levels than white and Latina women.
Hillary Clinton is only the most recent and prominent example of a woman who has been criticized for being “too masculine” or, in more coded language, “too ambitious and eager.” Similarly, Asians are commonly stereotyped as being more feminine and less masculine compared to whites or blacks. Berdahl and Ji-A Min examined stereotypes of East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) and found that they are expected to be as competent and warm as whites—but also less dominant (i.e., masculine).
And a 2015 study of “gender profiling” by Erika Hall, Adam Galinsky, and Katherine Phillips found that because Asians are seen as more feminine than whites and blacks, they are seen as better fits for feminine rather than masculine positions.
This seems to suggest that for Asian women, there is more (or at least greater perceptions) of a “zero sum” situation when it comes to the workforce and women colleagues, where one woman’s gain is another woman’s loss.
Ultimately, what strikes us is that there are clear intergroup differences in how women experience and are exposed to these four different patterns of bias, depending on their racial background.