Lakshmi Ramarajan is an Assistant Professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. Her research examines the management and consequences of identities in organizations.
Lakshmi's research examines how people can work fruitfully across social divides, with a particular emphasis on identities and group boundaries. Her research addresses two broad questions: 1) How does the work environment shape people’s experiences as members of particular groups and of their multiple identities? 2) What are the consequences of multiple identities and group differences in organizations? She investigates professional and work identities alongside other identities that are important to people, such as ethnicity, community and family. She examines consequences such as employee engagement and commitment to work, career success and satisfaction, quality of interpersonal and intergroup relations, and performance. In recent work, using experiments, surveys and interviews, she has examined how individuals’ manage their organizational, cultural and personal identities, and how these identities interact to influence engagement and performance.
Lakshmi earned her B.A. (Honors) in International Relations from Wellesley College, her M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and her PhD in Management from The Wharton School of Business. She was awarded the State Farm Foundation Dissertation Proposal Award in 2008. She was a Post Doctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School from 2008 to 2010.
Prior to her academic career, Lakshmi worked in international development, managing conflict resolution programs in West Africa with a focus on gender and workforce development. She was also a professional dancer for several years.
Past, Present and Future Research on Multiple Identities: Toward an Intrapersonal Network Approach
Psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers have long recognized that people have multiple identities—based on attributes such as organizational membership, profession, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and family role(s) and that these multiple identities shape people's actions in organizations. The current organizational literature on multiple identities, however, is sparse and scattered and has yet to fully capture this foundational idea. I review and organize the literature on multiple identities into five different theoretical perspectives: social psychological; microsociological; psychodynamic and developmental; critical; and intersectional. I then propose a way to take research on multiple identities forward using an intrapersonal identity network approach. Moving to an identity network approach offers two advantages: first, it enables scholars to consider more than two identities simultaneously, and second, it helps scholars examine relationships among identities in greater detail. This is important because preliminary evidence suggests that multiple identities shape important outcomes in organizations, such as individual stress and well-being, intergroup conflict, performance, and change. By providing a way to investigate patterns of relationships among multiple identities, the identity network approach can help scholars deepen their understanding of the consequences of multiple identities in organizations and spark novel research questions in the organizational literature.
Shattering the Myth of Separate Worlds: Negotiating Non-Work Identities at Work
How much of our self is defined by our work? Fundamental changes in the social organization of work are destabilizing the relationship between work and the self. As a result, parts of the self traditionally considered outside the domain of work, i.e., "non-work" identities, are increasingly affected by organizations and occupations. Based on an interdisciplinary review of literature on identity and work we develop a model of how people negotiate non-work identities (e.g., national, gender, family) in the context of organizational/occupational pressures and personal preferences regarding this identity. We propose that the dual forces of pressures and preferences vary from inclusion (e.g., incorporating the non-work identity within the work identity) to exclusion (e.g., keeping the identities separate). We suggest that the alignment or misalignment of these pressures and preferences shapes peoples' experience of the power relationship between themselves and their organization/occupation and affects how they manage their non-work identities. We describe how people enact different non-work identity management strategies—namely assenting to, complying with, resisting, or inverting the pressures—and delineate the consequences of these strategies for people and their organizations/occupations.
Jobs and Positions;
From the Outside In: The Negative Spillover Effects of Boundary Spanners' Relations with Members of Other Organizations
Contrary to much boundary spanning research, we examined the negative consequences of boundary spanning contact in multi-organizational contexts. Results from a sample of 833 Dutch peacekeepers show that employees' boundary spanning contact with members of other organizations was associated with reports of negative relationships with external parties (e.g., work-specific problems, culture-specific problems). These negative relationships also had a spillover effect such that they mediated the effect of boundary spanning contact on boundary spanners' negative attitudes toward their own jobs and organization (e.g., job attractiveness and confidence in the organization).
Jobs and Positions;
Implicit Affect in Organizations
Our goal is to integrate the construct of implicit affect—affective processes activated or processed outside of conscious awareness that influence ongoing thought, behavior, and conscious emotional experience—into the field of organizational behavior. We begin by offering a definition and review of implicit processes, including implicit cognition, motivation and affect. We then draw upon recent empirical research in psychology and neuroscience to make the case for a three category framework of implicit affect: (1) implicit sources of affect (2) implicit experiencing of affect and (3) implicit regulation of affect. To demonstrate the use of this framework in organizational scholarship, we present illustrative examples from organizational behavior research that represent each category. Given the limited amount of research in the organizational domain, we focus on demonstrating how an implicit affect perspective might alter or extend theoretical perspectives about a variety of organizational phenomena. We then discuss methodological options and challenges for studying implicit affect within the organizational domain. In sum, we provide a theoretical and methodological roadmap as well as a call for action for understanding the role of implicit affective processes in organizational behavior.
Mission and Purpose;
Problems and Challenges;
Cognition and Thinking;
Motivation and Incentives;
The Influence of Organizational Respect on Emotional Exhaustion in the Human Services
The Relationship between Peacekeepers and NGO Workers: The Role of Training and Conflict Management Styles in International Peacekeeping.
Keywords: Non-Governmental Organizations;
Conflict and Resolution;
An Outside-Inside Evolution in Gender and Professional Work
We study the process by which a professional service firm reshaped its activities and beliefs over nearly two decades as it adapted to shifts in the social discourse regarding gender and work. Analyzing archival data from the firm over eighteen years and representations of gender and work from the business press over the corresponding two decades, we find that the firm internalized the broader social discourse through iterated cycles of analysis and action, punctuated by evolving beliefs about gender and work. Outside experts and shifting social understandings played pivotal roles in changing beliefs and activities inside the firm. We conclude with an internalization model depicting organizational adaptation to evolving social institutions.
professional service firms;
Organizational Change and Adaptation;
Opening Up or Shutting Down? The Effects of Multiple Identities on Problem Solving
Across three studies, I investigate the distinct effects of multiple identity conflict and enhancement within people on two crucial aspects of resolving problems with others: integrative behavior and openness. The results of two studies support the hypotheses that multiple identity conflict is negatively related to integrative thinking while multiple identity enhancement is positively related to attitudes of openness to others. In a third study, I conducted an interpersonal dyadic negotiation experiment with business school students and found that, as predicted, these effects replicated and extended to integrative outcomes and open behaviors. This research shows that there are both harmful and helpful effects of multiple identities on interpersonal problem solving depending on whether those identities are enhancing or conflicting: multiple identity conflict shuts down integrative thought and behavior and multiple identity enhancement opens us up to other people.
Keywords: Interpersonal Communication;
Problems and Challenges;
Ramarajan, Lakshmi. "Opening Up or Shutting Down? The Effects of Multiple Identities on Problem Solving." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 10-041, November 2009. View Details
Claude Grunitzky, Founder & CEO of TRACE Magazine, In-class Comments, February 2, 2012
Keywords: Publishing Industry;
Battilana, Julie, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and James Weber. "Claude Grunitzky."
Harvard Business School Case 412-065, January 2012. (Revised March 2012.) View Details
Public Architecture is a non-profit architecture company dedicated to creating social and professional change through design for the public good. Public has focused on three strategies to create change: 1) promoting the design community's commitment to pro bono work, 2) inspiring action through creating design with a social mission, and 3) disseminating knowledge created by socially relevant design throughout the profession. As a central actor and change agent in the profession, Public Architecture created The 1% Program, a national network of architecture and design firms that have publicly pledged to donate 1% of their billable hours to the public good. However, the organization has been struggling to keep both The 1% Program and its own design initiatives integrated and reinforcing each other in creating social and professional change. Should Public split into two organizations? Would keeping the diverse elements within Public Architecture together force the entire organization to the least common denominator or would it provide them with a flexible platform for creating social change? These questions have important implications for Public's growth strategy, their funding, and resource allocation decisions.
Innovation and Management;
Growth and Development Strategy;
Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact;
Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Christopher Marquis, and Bobbi Thomason. "Public Architecture."
Harvard Business School Case 411-030, July 2010. (Revised September 2012.) View Details
Much of my research examines identities, group boundaries and intergroup relations in organizations.
Identities and Group Boundaries
People often define themselves as members' of multiple social groups -- race, nationality, gender, religion, etc. My primary stream of research investigates this phenomenon and demonstrates that people's psychological experience of managing multiple identities has consequences for groups and organizations. For instance, I have shown that intrapersonal identity conflict harms interpersonal problem-solving, while intrapersonal identity compatibility leads to cooperative behavior. In current projects, I am investigating contextual factors that influence people's experience of multiple identities and the effects of managing multiple identities and crossing group boundaries on prosocial behavior, gender relations, and conflict resolution in organizations.
Affective Processes in Organizations
My second stream of research on affect examines the affective processes underlying interpersonal and intergroup relationships in organizations. For instance, a recent project examines the influence of organizational respect on emotional exhaustion in human service work.