The Power of Differences at Work:  Authentic, Reciprocal Relationships

Have you heard that Miriam Webster’s #1 word of the year is authentic? One of the year’s most frequently looked up words. As a colleague said when she heard that news, “Isn’t it interesting that so many of us are looking to understand and affirm how we want to express ourselves.”

And isn’t it phenomenal and life altering when we can do that at work. The Clearwater team recently had the immense pleasure of designing and delivering a diversity mentoring program at a large financial institution. What makes the program unique is its foundation in reciprocity – the sharing of unique gifts of each individual based in particular on race, gender, age, and lived experience – and the welcoming space we created for that visceral sense of inclusivity.


• What is disarmed through reciprocity are the limitations of hierarchy and social status.
• What is born are deep relationships, broader perspectives and a community of learning that sustains the work.
• What is revealed are assumptions and unfounded expectations.
• What is created is a space for exploration, self-reflection, vulnerability and remarkable insight and action.

Imagine truly seeing someone, seeing yourself, being seen.

While diversity already exists at all levels across this particular organization, it mirrors the national norm in which people of color and women are less likely to be as well represented at the highest levels than they are at entry level jobs. Part of our mission was to create positive, sustainable momentum and that requires that everyone, at all levels, better understand their identities, their mindsets, their strengths, their capacity to empathize. Getting curious about themselves and others was key in building relationships that matter, and that is core to sustainability. And the very meaning of inclusivity.

For people of color, the reciprocal foundation was an essential characteristic of the program, from the get-go establishing one on one relationship with their co-mentor, grounded in respect for the unique value of the other. For many white participants at the executive level, the program opened doors to a deeper understanding of privilege, leadership and the inherent power they have in established status quo.

By amplifying their appreciation of differences, all participants stepped into that unnerving space of vulnerability without which relationships that matter cannot evolve. By exploring the roots of their identities and what it means to bring their whole selves to work, to community, to family and friends, they began to reveal to themselves their own authentic nature. It was a compelling and often challenging journey they embarked on, supported by a coach, prompted by conversations with their co-mentor and peers and, as a collective, tackling concepts including equity, assimilation, authenticity, identity and minimization. It was a lot. It IS a lot.

And we are ever so thankful they were, are courageous enough to step into this space with us and each other.