Cultural Diversity & Creativity in Lebanese Family Design Businesses

Roula Al Kadamani is currently undertaking her PhD research at Winchester School of Art, examining how cultural diversity impacts on creativity and profitability in the context of family-run design businesses in Lebanon.  In this post she outlines some of the key considerations of her work.

The phrase ‘cultural diversity’ has been associated with individuals and deeply embedded in everyday life in Western and Eastern societies. For example, Lebanon, as a Middle Eastern community, does not constitute a unique culture, and religion should not be viewed as the only source of Lebanese national character since the Lebanese society is a mosaic of different religions and cultures. The role of cultural diversity in Lebanon relates to a difficult history of cohabitation. Civil wars in the 19th and the 20th centuries had a considerable impact on management and leadership style. Despite the fact that Lebanese citizens live in a diverse community, they do not practice diversity in their daily life as their beliefs, cultures, political views and religious practices have immense effect of their behaviours and lives.

Lebanon operates a sectarian system, which is based on ethnic or cultural origins, with powerful families or cluster of families that share a perceived ancestry and culture competing for political sway and resources within the Lebanese state. In Lebanon, family businesses constitute 85% of the private sector, accounting for 1.05 million of 1.24 million jobs. The family unit is usually the only intact institution capable of sustaining innovative activities in Lebanon following civil war (1975-1995). Family businesses play an important role in Lebanese economy if they foster supportive working environments and career opportunities to overcome the employment challenges. In family firms, property and control are so firmly entwined that family members are involved in both strategic and day-to-day decision making, and the firm is shaped by dynastic motive. A family business owner may behave like a dictatorial head of the family. Hence, it is important to provide evidence that diversity has a pivotal role to play in an organisation in attracting top talents who can most effectively contribute to the organisational performance and enhance its competitive advantage.

Consequently, we can assume that family business ownership promotes a paternalistic management and leadership style. Lebanon shares various forms of discrimination, which have fuelled insecurity for both Lebanese citizens and other nationals. Despite Lebanon’s attempts to reduce the number of discriminatory laws and regulations, the country has not been actively engaged in promoting effective implementation of diversity management practices. Therefore, Lebanon is supposed to foster conformity in group, section, or unit behaviour. To overcome these potential limitations, diversity management has to focus on enhancing profitability through the fostering of social justice in the family businesses. If the Lebanese family design business is leading an inclusive culture within their practices, they can lead the culturally diverse workforce to create a more inclusive society.


Global Diversity management practices?

Diversity management practices actually emerged as a concept from the United States of America and the United Kingdom and drew attention to significant changes in the demographics of the workforce and the implications for business. The interest in diversity management has spread in recent years and has become a key managerial response to changing economic and social factors perceived as having an effect on organisational competitiveness. Many global practitioners engaged in the diversity management approaches, have reviewed a shifting discourse to initiate changes from local or international to multinational and global firms. This shifting discourse is assumed to be more understandable and appealing to managers, as well as a closer fit with the discourse and practices associated with Human Resource Management.

Diversity management practices are vital in contemporary organisations as they allow employees to bring their unique backgrounds (visible and invisible differences) example, race/ethnicity or gender and perspectives or opinions to lead creativity for the growth benefits of the organisation. Gender and religion play key role in diversity management for many organisations. Other issues such as age, education, experiences and qualifications are also becoming central to the achievement of a diverse organisation. Many organisations are therefore aiming for a more diverse and inclusive culture, which is essential to develop and promote different skills and perspectives for fundamental organisational change. The adoption of diversity management practices helps to develop skills and experiences and create new ideas within an organisation. These skills and abilities of employees lead to creativity in the workplace, as new ideas are harnessed for the profitability and management of the organisation. Furthermore, diversity management plays a key role in improving human creativity and increasing business performance within the local or global context. Recent studies have gathered evidence on how managers use their positional power to create “inclusive or assimilative” cultural norms through diversity management practices. In the Lebanese context, diversity management is not yet implemented in organisations. Implementing diversity management practices gives companies a competitive advantage in areas such as problem solving, intellectual property and awards for idea generation. However, the challenge of diversity management practices is to break the harmful cycle that equates cultural difference with social/economic disadvantages.

Therefore, the emphasis on the business advantage of diversity management is probably a good motivator for companies to enact diversity programs, it does not mean that moral and ethical missions should be neglected or overlooked. To overcome these potential limitations, it is important to focus on implementing diversity management practices in Lebanese design sectors. This project study will identify some important keys for local and international companies to implement diversity management in their practices. It will emphasize the importance of the role of increasing creative performance arising from diversity and maximizing the access of talented employees. This project study also suggests new strategies to enhance the role of employees who have different experiences, skills and perspectives in the workplace.


Creativity in Lebanon?

Creativity generates lasting value (social and economic benefits) and competitive advantage. Numerous studies on creativity within organisations have been conducted in Western countries. However, only a limited amount of research has been undertaken in in Lebanon and in the Middle East. Western and Eastern perspectives provide different views on creativity and present key directions for future research in Lebanon, the Middle East and the rest of the world. This project study highlights aspects relating to the field of creativity, which requires more in-depth research in Lebanon and the Middle Eastern countries. If Lebanese family design businesses seek to promote creativity such as selecting, creating and modernizing traditional ideas, this would increase creativity and productivity that are desirable to a contemporary items and launch effectively creativity in the local, regional and global markets. Creativity might be fostered including diversity, flexible production, and consumption in Lebanon.


The traditional tools of the creative process in Lebanon. (Images taken from Author’s fieldwork).

The link between ‘cultural diversity influences’, ‘diversity management practices’ and ‘creative performance’ has not always been associated with organisational performance. As a result, this project study seeks to explore the relationship between cultural diversity, diversity management practices and creative performance in Lebanese family design businesses. Using design sector as a case study, this project study will explore further the link between diversity and creativity. If there is a positive link then Lebanese family design businesses would improve performance by increasing diversity. Clearly, we can easily assume that there is a lack of cultural diversity, diversity management and creative performance in Lebanon. This PhD intends to explore this relationship and understand creativity further in Lebanese family design businesses.