Graduate Spotlight: Aurora Barrett
Aurora Barrett graduate of BSc Investment and Finance in Property, class of 2020, speaks about her experiences studying at Henley as a member of the LGBTQI+ community, and what she's gone onto since.
Why did you choose REP and Henley Business School?
I participated in the Pathways to Property programme in 2016, it was my first insight into the built environment and potential higher education studies; off the back of the summer school I was able to obtain a work experience at a leading property consultancy and agency ‘Savills’ in their Greater London Residential team and I was very impressed by the work ethic and the professionalism of my colleagues and particularly the Graduates that I was able to shadow and support during my time there. As a year 12 sixth form student the programme was eye-opening for me and provided a snapshot of an industry I knew very little about, which is surprising when property is so integral to our lives. The built environment inspired me, I was drawn to the idea of advising, creating and placemaking. Knowing that a lot of the industry were alumni of REP and that REP is a leading programme of study into the sector encouraged me to apply and choose the Henley Business School. It has been an amazing journey since.
We would love to hear about your career, what have you been up to since graduating?
Since graduating from REP in July 2020, I started my career in September 2020 at Savills Graduate Scheme on the Commercial Pathway and I am due to sit my APC this Autumn 2022. Savills Graduate Scheme has 6 four-month rotations to build your experience and exposure to the multi-disciplinaries of the company. What attracted me to the firm was the variety of experience I could build, and the very supportive continued professional development and APC structure. In my journey, I have rotated in Affordable Housing Valuation, Shopping Centre Property Management, Commercial Valuation, Shopping Centre Investment and Strategic Investment Advisory. Although it was hard in the beginning due to the lockdowns and restrictions, I felt that I was in a supportive environment, as even through Teams and Zoom my divisions put in their best efforts to be inclusive to new joiners.
During my time at Savills PLC, I actively participated in a lot of our internal D&I and Graduate client relationship management committees. I was also able to pitch at Savills in-house Dragons Den in November 2021 which gave me the experience of building an innovative project involving Modern Methods of Construction to combat our skills and labour shortage and now the growing cost escalation in financing for construction.
I am now a Graduate Analyst for Residential in Savills Investment Management (SIM) and I sit on their Strategic Partnerships Team. SIM are a separate corporate entity to Savills PLC, SIM are a real estate investment manager and manage real estate pooled funds and separate client-focused portfolios. In 2021 we entered a Strategic Alliance with Samsung Life who now own a 25% interest in SIM and have committed to some exciting new ventures for the growing business.
How do you think your time in REP set you up for your career in the industry?
I am thankful for the opportunities REP gave me, the networking and build-up of commercial awareness is indispensable. REP helped me build the confidence to work on my skills with public speaking, the foundations of financial modelling and the opportunities to meet a variety of fascinating minds. I am forever grateful for the late Professor Sarah Sayce, with her incredible and engaging lectures on property valuation and her insights into residential. I am grateful to have met the amazing Careers lecturer Jane Batchelor and I am thankful for the Reading Real Estate Foundation that I was able to support as a mentor and ambassador and who really improved my livelihood and opened doors for me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without REP, and even now I am supporting REP while being on the Alumni Development Board and the Henley Strategy Board to encourage our broad scope of opportunities in higher education.
What are the challenges you have found as a woman working in the industry? How did you overcome them?
As a woman, particularly as a black woman part of the LGBTQI+ community, it is undeniable that you will feel apprehensive entering an environment where there aren’t many people who are like you. You will feel that there might be a barrier to getting familiar with your team due to reasons of unconscious bias or lack of common hobbies, however, I have found that being open to conversation, being your authentic self, finding an ally and feeling comfortable to challenge any behaviour that is negative or preventing you from gaining experience can really brighten your time at work. Having the confidence to take a step forward and speak up goes a long way and you will be surprised how excited your colleagues are to know you and understand what’s happening from your perspective.
The Built Environment has historically been a white and male-dominated industry. In recent years the professional body RICS has strongly advocated diversity and inclusion including it in their new Rules of Conduct and it being a mandatory competency in the APC. Further, there have been many inclusive communities in and outside of many Real Estate firms. In Savills, I’m part of the Ethnicity, LGBTQI+, Gender and Neurodiversity boards. Externally, I regularly join the events held by Real Estate LGBTQI+ steering group Freehold and Changing the Face of Property. The Surveyors Livery are a diverse group of young associates and the Multi-Cultural Surveyors Network is a fantastic network of ethnicities in the industry who are very welcoming to students and graduates looking to enter the industry. For gender, groups like Ladies in Real Estate, Chicks with Bricks and the Association of Women in Property are among a few of the fun, supportive and amazing groups that you can join.
Allies programmes are widely being adopted as a policy in firms and many charities are being supported for disadvantaged youth, along with the many professionals building into our planning frameworks LGBTQI+ friendly environments or bespoke living options and recently, there has been a drive of private capital into affordable housing to support communities of all backgrounds. It is undeniable that we have a long way to go, there was an article recently about Aviva Investors CEO Amanda Blanc facing incredibly regressive sexist remarks at Aviva’s recent AGM, that provide evidence that women are still battling to be a part of the boardroom and the senior leadership boards, but I feel pretty positive, regarding everything that I’ve said in the above, that the profession and industry is moving in a positive direction
What would your advice for prospective undergrads be?
My advice is to network as much as you can, subscribe to as many real estate press groups as possible and be commercially aware. Always ask for work experience from a HR rep outside of their set schemes, they are very likely to provide you with a short opportunity in the firm and that can lead to bigger opportunities. If you want to get into financial modelling read Andrew Baum’s book on Real Estate Investment and ask someone whilst on work experience to watch them model an asset whether that be at a property of fund level, to see how in practice what assumptions they input and what returns they look for in their analysis. Have fun in first year but don’t neglect your projects and exams and be early to apply to any work experience, insight programmes and summer schemes as you can.
Finally, what is your advice for female jobseekers?
My advice is to be yourself, be authentic, read up on the industry, and continue to be commercially aware. If you can find a sector in the industry that inspires you, one thing that’s amazing about the built environment is that there are so many different jobs you can do, and so many different places where your strengths can be displayed, so play towards your strengths. Always chat to a HR representative when you can to find out more about the structure of a firm and where you can build experience.