How a Civil Engineer won Women in Property’s 2020 South West Student Award

Posted in: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

Author: Elenor Naraidoo -

Elenor Naraidoo is a 3rd year MEng Civil Engineering student and the winner of the Women in Property’s 2020 South West Student Award. In this blog, Elenor shares her journey from the nomination stages of these awards to eventually being announced as a regional winner. 

“Hello Elenor,

I would like to nominate you for the 2020 Women in Property - National Student Awards. Are you okay with this?...”

On a Wednesday in mid-November of last year, I was nominated for an award I had never heard of. The Regional Final of ‘The Women in Property Awards 2020’ was set to take place in February 2020, and at a time when I was having to cope with a busy schedule, I was concerned that this would over-work me.

“…The deadline is the 22nd November (This Friday!)”

Stress. One day could hardly be enough time to write an adequate application! Fortunately, Nicola Lines (the nominee for the 2019 awards) was incredibly encouraging. She doesn’t know it, but she really helped me find the confidence to enter. Somehow, Friday evening came and I had submitted all the necessary letters.

A month later I received an e-mail explaining what I must prepare for the interview. In addition to questions from a six-strong panel of judges, this involved a ten-minute presentation on a project I had completed. I chose to discuss a group coursework concerning the design of a timber structure.

My interview took place in Exeter. The judges held positions in various parts of the construction industry: Robert Woolcock, Director of Willmott Dixon; Tim Western, Director of Industrial & Logistics at JLL; Rhiannon Charles, Surveyor Development at Savills; Richard Bath, Associate Structural Engineer at Hydrock; and Dave Rowe, Operations Director (South West) – Bouygues UK. It was a real pleasure to meet these professionals, but I’m not going to pretend that presenting to them was not daunting.

Waiting at Exeter Central for my train back to Bath Spa, I remember noticing a couple wearing face-masks on the platform opposite. ‘That’s a little dramatic’ I remember thinking.

And then the 17th of March arrived.

“Important, please read.

Following the University's announcement earlier today, face to face teaching for undergraduate and postgraduate students is to finish on Tuesday 17 March. All teaching, including tutorials, after this date will be online.”

Shortly later, I was informed that the Student Awards was to become a virtual event, and I was asked to provide a cringey one-minute video of myself. Oh, the woes of this virtual age.

It was quite frustrating. The regional award ceremony would have been a black-tie event. Instead, the ‘special’ event involved me sitting in front of my computer all evening. I think the major disadvantage of all of this has been the inability to network. I connected with my judges on LinkedIn, but I never met the other regional finalists, their judges, and the industry leaders invited to award the winners on the night.

My sole goal from entering the competition was the window into the professional world that it might provide me with. I did not enter the competition expecting to win. I never win anything! So, I was rather confused to be awarded the joint title of ‘Regional Winner of the Association of Women in Property’s South West Student Awards 2020’ with the lovely Florence Clarke.

In that respect, I’m glad it was a virtual event because with my camera off, nobody could see me shaking.

“Hi Elenor,

Your employment and the role that you have accepted with us is important to us at Arup, and we’re looking forward to you joining our teams once we are through the pandemic…”

In conjunction with the news that I had won a prize, was the news that my placement would be postponed by four months. I was a bit of an emotional wreck. The support I received from the Women in Property Awards Association was phenomenal; CV workshops, an offer for a site visit, and a potential four-month placement offer with Hydrock’s Bristol office. Although stricter measures of lockdown ensured that the latter offers could not be fulfilled, the help and encouragement I received absolutely picked my spirits up.

“Dear Elenor,

Congratulations on making it through to the finals of Women in Property's National Student Awards on 16th September 2020. Here is some information about the day regarding your mentoring training and final interview all of which will take place via Zoom.”

That was not a sentence that filled me with joy. I have found that it is so much easier to build a good rapport with people when you meet them in person, than sitting in front of the webcam in your bedroom, hoping that the screen reflection in your glasses doesn’t look like you just have white spaces for eyes.

I was the only civil engineer in the final; I felt a bit mis-placed amongst the quantity surveyors, real-estate agents and architects. And this time, there were no engineers on the judging panel either: Monica Green, National Chairman and Director of The Partners Group; Carole Ditty, Head of Legal at Bouygues UK; Iain Maxwell, Director of Lease Consultancy, Savills; and Iain Holliday, Triskelion Associates (UK) Ltd.

Nevertheless, I did not hold back from telling the judges how excited I was to be part of the construction industry. In this pivotal age where we can still save the future climate of our planet, I feel so determined to pursue change within the industry that is responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Dear Elenor,

This year 124 students representing 60 universities across the UK were nominated for the National Student Awards, and you were one of just thirteen to become a regional winner for 2020, a fantastic achievement and we hope you enjoyed the opportunity of physically meeting the judges before we all moved over to Zoom”

I am incredibly grateful to have been nominated for this award. I have ‘met’ amazing students, each one so passionate about the career ahead of her. I have networked with the construction industry’s finest, and continue to be inspired. And I have gained the confidence to pursue a career in which I can be a driver for change.

Although the overall winner has yet to be announced, the feedback I received implies I am unlikely to achieve that title. With praise, also came criticism of my ‘outspoken nature’. Yet, I believe that public opinion always precedes legislation. Without women’s suffrage, I might not have been here today. Without the continued pursuit for a carbon-neutral future by workers in the construction industry and other industries alike, how will we ever prevent a global climate emergency? And if this means I am outspoken, so let it.

Ellie's one minute introduction video entry to the Women in Property competition.

Posted in: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

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