Why Universal Music is backing neurodiversity

David Joseph

Universal Music UK has launched its own Creative Differences handbook, aimed at helping the creative industries embrace neurodiversity.

As chairman and CEO David Joseph told Music Week back in November, when Universal won the Company Award for Diversity In The Workplace at the 2019 Music Week Women In Music Awards, neurodiversity is a broad term that covers everything from dyslexia through to autism – and the major believes that diversity of thought is increasingly important for success in the modern era.

At the handbook’s launch on Friday (January 17), there was a big turnout of industry execs, both from Universal Music and other organisations, including the BPI, MMF, UK Music and PPL. And there was A-list political backing from Secretary Of State for Health & Social Care and former Culture Minister, Matt Hancock, who spoke in support of the initiative.

Hancock was not diagnosed as dyslexic until he was at university, and said that he “lived for 20 years professionally hiding it” but said it and other neurodiverse conditions were now much better understood and more highly valued.

“There’s no decision better made by a less diverse group of people,” he said. “It’s always a better decision when you get people who are different together to make it.”

And that is a key reason why Joseph and Universal are backing the project. Universal UK’s boss spoke passionately at the launch about the “journey” that had led to the launch of the 110-page handbook, guided by people with experiences of the conditions and key organisations working in the field.

“We’re just at the start of this process,” he said. “Whether you’re a large or small organisation, an employer or an employee, I hope there’s something in this book to start a conversation.”

Florence Welch has written the foreword to the book and Joseph and Universal are committed to making the company neurodiversity-friendly, whether for artists or executives, with the handbook offering a number of practical solutions that can be adopted in the workplace.

“We realised that people shouldn’t change,” Joseph told Music Week last year. “We needed to create an environment that was inviting to get the best out of all those people. People who change the world are people who think differently.”

Working with senior Universal execs Morna Cook, Selina Webb and Jonathan Badyal, Joseph is reviewing recruitment and working practices to help create a ‘come as you are’ environment.

“We’re the first company in the creative industries to do it but it’s not about being the first, it’s about our passion,” said Joseph. “We have been more battery-energised by this subject in the last year than any other thing. We’re not trying to say, ‘You should do this’, we’re just going to say, ‘We’re doing this’. If you’ve got 50 people, do you need all of them to think the same? Well, no! That’s like having 50 artists who produce the same song.”

* To read Music Week’s interview with Universal Music on its award-winning approach to diversity, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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