Pursuing Better Together with Andrew Fairbairn
In the latest Arch Pursuing Better Together podcast we talk to Andrew Fairbairn, Co-Chair of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) London and SVP of SEO USA about how the charity is helping to create career pathways for young talent from underrepresented and underserved communities and foster greater diversity within organisations.
“SEO London is in what I would call the ‘hope business’,” Andrew explains in his opening comments. “We are there to help generate opportunities for these young people, and to create pathways towards professional and financial success.
“It’s about helping people who are in many ways on the outside to get on the inside, where the action is. And if you scale that up, then over time you are not only impacting communities, but society as a whole.”
Involved for almost three decades, Andrew’s relationship with SEO stretches back to being an SEO career intern with Lehmann Brothers in the 90s. His engagement with the charity saw him set up SEO London in 2000, an organisation which Arch is proud have a partnership with, and in 2016 he became CEO.
Born in the US but having spent many of his formative years in his mother’s hometown in Jamaica, Andrew has seen how systemic factors can be incredibly limiting for so many people and communities – which has fanned his desire to ensure career opportunities are available to all.
Talking about the approach that SEO takes, he says: “We view the world through three primary lenses in terms of the populations we serve; secondary school students, undergraduate students, and SEO alumni. We start with year 11, when we’re giving people all the information they need to make smarter decisions about their future careers. Fast forward to university, and we’re now helping people into the workplace through internships and industrial placements. We have over 120 major employers who work with us, including Arch.”
SEO’s work extends beyond just securing placements for underrepresented groups, as Andrew explains.
“People who go through our programmes enter our alumni pool. We think of SEO as a career-long partnership… we want to stay connected with these young people, making sure we keep them ‘in the game’ rising up in society and having a greater stake in society.”
The alumni are also about giving something back, he adds. “Our mantra is, ‘it’s not about you, but about the people who come after you’.”
By encouraging more people from underrepresented backgrounds to secure more opportunities in the workplace, SEO is also having a positive diversity impact in many organisations, which not only promotes greater equity and inclusivity, but also, as Andrew states, contributes to greater business success.
“More diverse voices around the table can help companies win more business over time,” he says, “simply because you are more likely to develop products more attuned to the demands of the markets and communities you serve. As a result, you will likely experience fewer stumbling blocks and fewer losses because you will be able to ‘see around more corners’ and address more issues.”
While still a relatively young charity, SEO London has already gained significant traction, partnering with leading companies across most sectors. However, its impact is perhaps felt most by Andrew when he attends business events in the city.
“I went to an event in Hyde Park recently with one of our major sponsors,” he says. “The event was packed with black professionals, and every second or third individual was an SEO London alumnus. When you start to create a critical mass of young people rising together, they start to build relationships – and if you take the insurance sector it is a sector built on relationships. And as they work together, they build trust, and of course insurance is also about trust. That is where the future of SEO can go.”
Considering that future path in more detail, Andrew believes that while the charity has “written the playbook when it comes to early careers support and recruitment in relation to DE&I”, there is still much work to be done.
“Where the playbook is not written,” he believes, “is around retention, promotion, recognition and tenure of diverse staff within organisations, such that we start to see people rising through the middle ranks and reaching the top positions.”
Andrew recognises that in its continuous pursuit to achieve more for the underrepresented people it supports, its success will be built on the strength of the relationships it develops with companies such as Arch.
“By creating a platform of multifaceted opportunities for companies to engage with SEO, we’ve been able to bring more firms into our world and we want to do more, to magnify our vision, and to accelerate our mission.”
About Arch Insurance International Podcasts
During our Pursuing Better Together series, we’ll hear from luminaries both inside and outside of the insurance industry about how they have “pursued better” within their chosen professions.