The Diversity Label, a catalyst for a new way of learning

In my experience few organisations are sufficiently aware of the necessity to change the way they learn in order to thrive in a world of relentless competition. Even fewer consider the Diversity Label as an opportunity to accomplish this change.

But can the Diversity Label really help them create a new way of learning? If so, how?

For the most part, the purpose of the Diversity Label is seen as reviewing and creating processes and validating policies addressing the issues of diversity.

However, if organisations really want to get the maximum value from the Diversity Label certification process, they need to question themselves and their motives thoroughly:

·    Do we, as an organisation, get the most out of this labelling process?

· Do we, as an organisation, capitalise enough on the knowledge emerging during this certification?

·  Do we, as an organisation, use this learning process to improve our performance?

This reflection leads to a deeper purpose, that of transforming the organisation’s way of learning in order to thrive in a world of relentless competition.

Organisations can learn in many different ways, but what way of learning makes the difference?

Chris Argyris, in his 1991 Harvard Business Review article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn”, writes about the learning process in organisations. He distinguishes two different learning approaches, the “single loop” and “double loop” learning.

The single loop learning implies a narrow way of understanding learning as problem solving, one of identifying and correcting errors.

But this “problem solving” is not enough for organisations to become more competitive in a tough business environment.

As Chris Argyris puts it, they need to engage in double loop learning, to reflect critically on their own way of thinking and behaviour, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organisation’s problems, and then change how they act. Organisations should thus “teach people how to reason in a new way – in effect, to change the master programmes in their heads and thus reshape their behaviour”.

Most people think of the Diversity Label as single loop learning, which is problem solving.

The great news is that, if rightly used, the Diversity Label allows a double loop learning process.

First of all, by taking the time to ask “Why are we doing things this way?”

It is the people in an organisation that construct the processes evaluated in the diversity labelling procedure. These processes are the result of their mental models. They are nourished by the organisational culture and they, in turn, nourish the organisational culture. By asking “why are we doing things this way?” the organisation will become aware of these mental models and of the possibility that they might be blocking the learning process.

Secondly, by taking the time to ask “Is there any other way of doing things?”

This question will eventually give rise to another: “Is there any other way of THINKING that would lead us to do them differently?”

During the Diversity Label evaluation, people from different departments get to work together to provide the necessary information regarding the analysed processes. Sometimes, these people have never met before, they’ve never talked diversity together, may have different mental models built on different professional and personal experiences. If rightly coached during the certification process, they will be able to recognise the reasoning they use, and the behaviours it generates, and challenge themselves to accept thinking about things differently.

Nevertheless obtaining the Diversity Label is a project implemented within precise time limits. It will end one day.

The question is “How can an organisation keep alive the state of mind generated by the double loop learning involved in the Diversity Label, which allows differences to be expressed in a constructive way?

It is essential for the organisation to continue the process of learning initiated by the Diversity Label certification by creating safe spaces for learning, where people don’t feel threatened if they are critical about their own ways of thinking and behaving.

These safe learning spaces can take various forms.

They can be virtual spaces, by creating a cultural environment where the top management is engaged in changing their way of reasoning and acting. Employees will then see that the top management walks the talk, and they will be more confident in challenging their own behaviours.

They can be real spaces, like workshops designed for members of different teams, departments, at different hierarchical levels, to meet in order to practice their new skills of recognizing and challenging their habitual ways of thinking.

The Diversity Label thus becomes an efficient process of change management and innovation that allows organisations to overcome their inertia by increasing their flexibility and reactiveness.

It can be hard, it can be risky, the diversity team can be confronted with remarks such as “who are they to teach me lessons?”, they can even win some enemies on the way, but it is a wonderful human adventure.



November 28, Paris, Conference « Le Label Diversité: le pouvoir de transformer l’organisation ». The Conference will be held in French.

Registration and details here: