Women lack ambition. Well-intentioned people are bias free. It’s best to be color and gender blind. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In her recent provocative presentation, “The Changing Workforce: Intersections of Identity and Influence”, Robin J. Ely, Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration and senior associate dean for Culture and Community, dispelled myths that limit inclusion in the workplace. Her presentation was part of the “17th Workforce Management Conference”, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Women do not lack ambition, they “lack support for their ambitions,” Ely said. Regarding well-intentioned people, “Negative racial attitudes and racial and gender stereotypes are automatically activated in a majority of Americans.” And, on color and gender blindness, “Research overwhelmingly shows that people automatically perceive others in terms of race, gender, and age,” she concluded.

Dispelling myths leads to a more diverse workforce, and diversity matters. “A more diverse workforce enhances organizational effectiveness, lifts morale, brings greater access to new market segments, and enhances creativity and productivity.” However, there are impediments to reaching a diverse workplace. Diversity only leads to effectiveness if people are able to learn across differences, she said.

“This presentation provided a lively exploration of the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation,” said Nancy Costikyan, Director, Office of WorkLife.  “The conference was not just theoretical. We explored the ways in which challenging situations play out across the many different cultures within Harvard, and how new dimensions are emerging during this time of increased scrutiny — both internal and external.”