Lakshmi Ramarajan - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Lakshmi Ramarajan

Anna Spangler Nelson and Thomas C. Nelson Associate Professor of Business Administration

Organizational Behavior

Lakshmi Ramarajan is the Anna Spangler Nelson and Thomas C. Nelson Associate Professor of Business Administration 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.

Journal Articles
  1. Discordant vs. Harmonious Selves: The Effects of Identity Conflict and Enhancement on Sales Performance in Employee-Customer Interactions

    Lakshmi Ramarajan, Nancy Rothbard and Steffanie Wilk

    Across multiple studies, we examine how identity conflict and enhancement within people affect performance in tasks that involve interactions between people through two mechanisms: role-immersion, operationalized as intrinsic motivation, and role-taking, operationalized as perspective-taking. In Study 1, a longitudinal field study of customer service representatives (n=763) who simultaneously identify with multiple brands they represent to customers, we examine the relationships among identity conflict and enhancement, on the one hand, and objective sales performance, on the other. We find independent effects for identity conflict and enhancement on intrinsic motivation, perspective-taking, and performance, such that identity conflict negatively and enhancement positively affect all three variables above and beyond average identification. Intrinsic motivation further mediates the relationships between identity conflict and enhancement on sales in a direction consistent with our theorizing. However, while significant, perspective-taking does not mediate these relationships in the expected direction, because it has a negative effect on sales. In Studies 2a and 2b, both experimental studies, we strengthen causal inference using an experimental moderation-of-process approach (Spencer, Zanna, & Fong, 2005) to constructively replicate and extend our findings. The paper demonstrates how multiple identities within people can have consequences for performance in tasks that involve interactions between people.

    Keywords: Identity; Interpersonal Communication; Sales; Performance;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Nancy Rothbard, and Steffanie Wilk. "Discordant vs. Harmonious Selves: The Effects of Identity Conflict and Enhancement on Sales Performance in Employee-Customer Interactions." Academy of Management Journal 60, no. 6 (December 2017): 2208–2238.  View Details
  2. Blurring the Boundaries: The Interplay of Gender and Local Communities in the Commercialization of Social Ventures

    Stefan Dimitriadis, Matthew Lee, Lakshmi Ramarajan and Julie Battilana

    This paper examines the critical role of gender in the commercialization of social ventures. We argue that cultural beliefs about what is perceived to be appropriate work for each gender influence how founders of social ventures incorporate commercial activity into their ventures. Specifically, we argue and show that although cultural beliefs that disassociate women from commercial activity may result in female social venture founders being less likely to use commercial activity than their male counterparts, these effects are moderated by cultural beliefs about gender and commercial activity within founders’ local communities. The presence of female business owners in the same community mitigates the role of founders’ gender on the use of commercial activity. We examine these issues through a novel sample of 584 social ventures in the United States. We constructively replicate and extend these findings with a supplemental analysis of a second sample, the full population of new nonprofit organizations founded during a two-year period in the United States (n = 31,160). By highlighting how gendered aspects of both the social and commercial sectors interact to shape the use of commercial activity by social venture founders, our findings contribute to research on hybrid organizations in the social sector, communities as a context for the enactment of gender, and the enactment of gender in entrepreneurship.

    Keywords: Social Enterprise; Gender; Local Range; Commercialization; Culture;


    Dimitriadis, Stefan, Matthew Lee, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and Julie Battilana. "Blurring the Boundaries: The Interplay of Gender and Local Communities in the Commercialization of Social Ventures." Organization Science 28, no. 5 (September–October 2017): 819–839. (Pre-published online, August 2017.)  View Details
  3. Managing the High Intensity Workplace: An 'Always Available' Culture Breeds a Variety of Dysfunctional Behaviors

    Erin M. Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan

    People today are under intense pressure to be “ideal workers”—totally committed to their jobs and always on call. But after interviewing hundreds of professionals in many fields, the authors have concluded that selfless dedication to work is often unnecessary and harmful. It has dysfunctional consequences not only for individuals but also for their organizations. The authors discuss three typical strategies for coping with demanding workplaces and the risks associated with each. Accepting involves prioritizing the job above all else and remaining available 24/7. Because accepters fail to cultivate outside interests, they’re often slow to recover from professional setbacks. And they may be too focused on their own responsibilities to mentor others—a drawback for their organizations. Passing involves portraying oneself as an ideal worker while quietly pursuing a life beyond the office. But passers may feel isolated from their colleagues because they are hiding parts of themselves, and their perpetuation of the ideal-worker myth keeps the pressure on everyone. Revealing involves openly embracing nonwork commitments. Revealers may unwittingly put their careers at risk, however, and bosses who penalize them may drive away talent. So how can organizations build a healthier—and more productive—culture? Managers can act as role models by leading multifaceted lives themselves. They can reward employees for the quality and results of their work rather than the time put into it. And they can enforce reasonable work hours, require vacations, and take other steps to protect employees’ personal lives.

    Keywords: Risk Management; Working Conditions; Work-Life Balance; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Culture;


    Reid, Erin M., and Lakshmi Ramarajan. "Managing the High Intensity Workplace: An 'Always Available' Culture Breeds a Variety of Dysfunctional Behaviors." Harvard Business Review 94, no. 6 (June 2016): 85–90.  View Details
  4. Past, Present and Future Research on Multiple Identities: Toward an Intrapersonal Network Approach

    Lakshmi Ramarajan

    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.

    Keywords: Networks; Research; Organizations; Identity;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi. "Past, Present and Future Research on Multiple Identities: Toward an Intrapersonal Network Approach." Academy of Management Annals 8 (2014): 589–659.  View Details
  5. Shattering the Myth of Separate Worlds: Negotiating Non-Work Identities at Work

    Lakshmi Ramarajan and Erin M. Reid

    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.

    Keywords: identity; diversity; technology; Technology; Strategy; Identity; Jobs and Positions; Diversity;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, and Erin M. Reid. "Shattering the Myth of Separate Worlds: Negotiating Non-Work Identities at Work." Academy of Management Review 38, no. 4 (October 2013): 621–644. (Published online before print, January 15, 2013.)  View Details
  6. From the Outside In: The Negative Spillover Effects of Boundary Spanners' Relations with Members of Other Organizations

    Lakshmi Ramarajan, Katerina Bezrukova, Karen A. Jehn and Martin Euwema

    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).

    Keywords: Relationships; Jobs and Positions; Organizations; Reports; Attitudes;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Katerina Bezrukova, Karen A. Jehn, and Martin Euwema. "From the Outside In: The Negative Spillover Effects of Boundary Spanners' Relations with Members of Other Organizations." Journal of Organizational Behavior 32, no. 6 (August 2011): 886–905.  View Details
  7. Implicit Affect in Organizations

    Sigal G. Barsade, Lakshmi Ramarajan and Drew Westen

    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.

    Keywords: Framework; Business Processes; Mission and Purpose; Organizational Culture; Problems and Challenges; Research; Behavior; Cognition and Thinking; Emotions; Motivation and Incentives; Perspective;


    Barsade, Sigal G., Lakshmi Ramarajan, and Drew Westen. "Implicit Affect in Organizations." Research in Organizational Behavior 29 (2009).  View Details
  8. The Relationship between Peacekeepers and NGO Workers: The Role of Training and Conflict Management Styles in International Peacekeeping.

    Lakshmi Ramarajan, Katerina Bezrukova, Karen Jehn and Martin Euwema

    Keywords: Non-Governmental Organizations; Conflict and Resolution; Management;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Katerina Bezrukova, Karen Jehn, and Martin Euwema. "The Relationship between Peacekeepers and NGO Workers: The Role of Training and Conflict Management Styles in International Peacekeeping." International Journal of Conflict Management 15, no. 2 (2004): 167–191.  View Details
Book Chapters
  1. How Identities and Discrimination Catalyze Global Entrepreneurship

    Lakshmi Ramarajan and Emily LeRoux-Rutledge


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, and Emily LeRoux-Rutledge. "How Identities and Discrimination Catalyze Global Entrepreneurship." In Positive Organizing in a Global Society: Understanding and Engaging Differences for Capacity-building and Inclusion, edited by Laura Morgan Roberts, Lynn Perry Wooten, and Martin N. Davidson. Routledge, 2014.  View Details
  2. A Positive Approach to Studying Diversity in Organizations

    Lakshmi Ramarajan and David A. Thomas

    Keywords: Research; Organizations; Diversity;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, and David A. Thomas. "A Positive Approach to Studying Diversity in Organizations." Chap. 41 in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, edited by Kim S. Cameron and Gretchen M. Spreitzer, 552–565. Oxford University Press, 2011.  View Details
  3. Checking Your Identities at the Door? Positive Relationships Between Non-Work and Work Identities

    Nancy Rothbard and Lakshmi Ramarajan

    In this chapter we examine factors that enable individuals to experience compatibility between their work and non-work identities. Specifically, we suggest that identity compatibility is influenced by (a) the extent to which individuals can control the co-activation of identities, and (b) the routinization of identity co-activation. We argue that factors such as status and respect allow for greater control over whether and when identities are co-activated. We also argue that compatibility arises from cognitive routines which emerge from active and passive adaptation to situations in which co-activation of identities occurs frequently.

    Keywords: Personal Development and Career; Identity; Adaptation;

Working Papers
  1. An Outside-Inside Evolution in Gender and Professional Work

    Lakshmi Ramarajan, Kathleen McGinn and Deborah Kolb

    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.

    Keywords: gender; professional service firms; social institutions; organizational learning; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Employment; Gender; Society; Service Industry;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Kathleen McGinn, and Deborah Kolb. "An Outside-Inside Evolution in Gender and Professional Work." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-051, November 2012. (Work in progress for requested submission, Research in Organizational Behavior.)  View Details
Cases and Teaching Materials
  1. Carla Ann Harris at Morgan Stanley

    Lakshmi Ramarajan

    This case follows Carla Ann Harris, an African-American executive on Wall Street, from her childhood to the eve of her 20th year at Morgan Stanley. In addition to her professional identity as an investment banker, Harris is also an accomplished gospel singer, an observant Catholic, a philanthropist, a public speaker, and a writer. Along with her successes and accomplishments, she has also faced setbacks and challenges. Despite the negative experiences African-American women face on Wall Street, Harris feels she has been successful because she "brings her authentic self to the table." A unique aspect of Harris' story is that throughout her journey she nourishes other aspects of her identity, such as her singing, her devotion to her faith, and her desire to help others—a difficult feat in the financial services industry given the culture of long hours, competitiveness, and cynicism. The case ends with a career decision: Harris must decide whether to start an ambitious program for emerging female and minority asset managers (the Emerging Manager Program or EMP). The program represents a way to bring together her professional expertise and personal passion to help people thrive in their work, but like all entrepreneurial ventures it has associated risks. The case helps students to understand how one's own identities are central to one's career development, relationship building, and professional growth; to consider how maintaining unique aspects of oneself can help people succeed in a challenging organizational culture; and to provide a forum for discussing issues of race and gender in a profession in which there are few minorities and women at senior levels.

    Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Identity; Personal Development and Career; Financial Services Industry;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi. "Carla Ann Harris at Morgan Stanley." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 416-040, March 2016.  View Details
  2. Building Effective Working Relationships

    Lakshmi Ramarajan

    This note introduces a framework for deliberately building effective interpersonal relationships. First, we will define the necessary attributes of these relationships. Next, we will discuss common barriers to effectiveness. Lastly, we will provide tools to build and maintain these relationships.

    Keywords: Interpersonal relations; interpersonal communication; power and influence; networks; Networks; Interpersonal Communication; Performance Effectiveness;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi. "Building Effective Working Relationships." Harvard Business School Module Note 415-030, September 2014. (Revised January 2015.)  View Details
  3. Claude Grunitzky, Founder & CEO of TRACE Magazine, In-class Comments, February 2, 2012

    Julie Battilana, Lakshmi Ramarajan and James Weber

    Keywords: Publishing Industry;


    Battilana, Julie, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and James Weber. "Claude Grunitzky, Founder & CEO of TRACE Magazine, In-class Comments, February 2, 2012." Harvard Business School Video Supplement 412-705, March 2012. (Revised March 2015.)  View Details
  4. Public Architecture

    Lakshmi Ramarajan, Christopher Marquis and Bobbi Thomason

    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.

    Keywords: Design; Innovation and Management; Growth and Development Strategy; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Organizational Culture; Organizational Structure; Nonprofit Organizations; Business Strategy; Integration;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, Christopher Marquis, and Bobbi Thomason. "Public Architecture." Harvard Business School Case 411-030, July 2010. (Revised September 2012.)  View Details
Other Publications and Materials
  1. Changes in Work, Changes in Self? Managing Our Work and Non-Work Identities in an Integrated World

    Lakshmi Ramarajan and Erin M. Reid

    Diverse workplaces are challenging the boundaries between workers' personal and professional lives, as workers today navigate employer pressures regarding who they are and who they can be outside of work. Lakshmi Ramarajan and Erin M. Reid consider how the attunement to power dynamics affects organisational effectiveness and organisational change.

    Keywords: Organizational Change and Adaptation; Boundaries; Identity; Power and Influence;


    Ramarajan, Lakshmi, and Erin M. Reid. "Changes in Work, Changes in Self? Managing Our Work and Non-Work Identities in an Integrated World." European Business Review (September–October 2013): 61–64.  View Details