Making waves as a female building surveyor – a Q&A with UCEM Alumni Annabel Huffer

Posted on: 14 May, 2024

We met with UCEM alumni Annabel Huffer to discuss her experiences as a female building surveyor and why she advocates so strongly for apprenticeships.


Despite making up around half the world’s population, women are a significant minority in industries like construction and building surveying. Just 15.8% of the construction workforce in the UK are female, and while these numbers are growing, they’re not rising fast enough and continue to lag behind other sectors and industries.

In the last few months UCEM have documented the experiences of several female students and staff in the built environment, as part of our Be Part of the Change campaign.

Learn more: UCEM launches ‘Be Part of the Change’ to challenge lack of representation in built environment

For the latest of our Q&As we met with Annabel Huffer, UCEM alumni and Building Surveyor at Eddisons. Annabel, a champion for the built environment and an advocate for apprenticeships, shared her experiences as a woman in building surveying, the support she’s received from Eddisons, and what she thinks needs to change in the sector to address the lack of female representation.

This interview was conducted by Charlotte Thackeray, Outreach and Inclusion Lead, and Daniel Ashton, Content Marketing Manager.

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About Annabel

Annabel joined Eddisons as an Apprentice Building Surveyor in 2019 and graduated from UCEM in 2023. She won both the ‘Apprentice of the Year’ and ‘Principal’s Choice’ categories of UCEM’s 2023 Built Environment Apprenticeship Awards, returning at the 2024 ceremony as a guest speaker and panellist. Alongside her role at Eddisons, she’s currently Vice Chair of RICS Matrics Hampshire and Isle of Wight, and also Vice Chair and Junior Liaison Officer at Southampton Property Association.

Learn more: Annabel Huffer – 2023 Winners

Q: What inspired you to enter the built environment?

“I was drawn to the idea that I could get a foundational base of knowledge in my career and then potentially specialise in something and take it in a completely different direction.”

A: My father is a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and I grew up seeing him as a General Practice surveyor and Registered Valuer, so I knew from an early age that I was interested in property.

I didn’t know which element of property I wanted to go into, so I did a day’s work experience as a valuer and a day in building surveying with some of his colleagues. After that, I decided building surveying was right for me, so I started pursuing a career in the field when I turned 16. I actually went to the UCEM offices on one of its open days, which was in the very early days of its apprenticeship offerings. After speaking with some of the programme leaders at UCEM, I decided the apprenticeship route was the way I wanted to get into the industry.

Q: What interested you about building surveying in particular?

A: What stood out to me about building surveying was the diverse range of projects you can work on. Firstly, there’s the variety of buildings – you can specialise in anything, from sustainability through to heritage preservation and everything in between. Then there’s the work itself – you can specialise in professional or project work. I was drawn to the idea that I could get a foundational base of knowledge in my career and then potentially specialise in something and take it in a completely different direction.

Q: What is the gender dynamic of building surveying, and how does it compare to other professions in the built environment?

“When I go on site, I sometimes get treated differently. I’ve had clients who sometimes don’t expect a young female to turn up to a construction site.”

A: It’s a very male-dominated industry – I’ve spoken about it before and I think it is a key element of the industry, especially with the new diversity, equity and inclusion action plan in place at the RICS.

I’m outnumbered as a woman in both my local and national teams, and there are only a handful of women compared to around 50 male building surveyors at my company. Eddisons are very supportive though and management is unbiased, giving opportunities to a wide range of people.

That being said, when I go on site, I sometimes get treated differently. I’ve had clients and contractors who sometimes don’t expect a young woman to turn up to a construction site. I am lucky that overall, I’ve had more positive experiences then negative, and I am grateful to the vast majority of my clients and contractors for treating me no differently to my male colleagues.

I have such a supportive company and immediate team that I haven’t necessarily found it as much of an issue as I know others have, but the negative experiences I have encountered reinforce the fact that diversity is still a very real issue in the industry.

Q: Why should women consider a career in the built environment?

“Diversity is very important – you need different perspectives, viewpoints and backgrounds to make progress, not just from a business perspective, but as an industry.”

A: Because it is a fantastic career! There is the opportunity to become skilled and knowledgeable about the world around us, while getting out and about, and networking with other people. It’s also very important for businesses to have diversity within them and certainly within the construction industry. Diversity brings different perspectives, viewpoints and backgrounds to make progress, not just from a business perspective but as an industry.

I recently met a female development contractor who is the director of her own company. She’s quite rare – there aren’t many of them and speaking to her was inspirational. She’s been through the same experiences that I’m going through, which is great, and shows there are opportunities and role models out there for women in the sector.

The key thing with surveying is that there simply aren’t enough surveyors, full stop, across the board and irrespective of gender or other characteristics. A lot of existing professionals are coming up to retirement age, or they’re stepping back, and right now we haven’t got the people to replace the so there is an ever-rising skills shortage. Increasing diversity is the solution, but right now there isn’t the awareness or accessibility we need for more people to consider the sector or the apprenticeship route.

Learn more: How higher education can encourage and support more women into the built environment

Q: You’re a vocal advocate for apprenticeships. Do you think they could be a way to bring more underrepresented groups into the sector?

“I don’t think enough people realise that apprenticeships are actually a viable and exciting option, and that they can accelerate your life.”

A: I do, and I think that’s why the apprenticeship route appealed to me.

The opportunities that were afforded through the apprenticeship, and having earnt money from day one, allowed me to buy a house at a young age.

I don’t think enough people realise that apprenticeships are actually a viable and exciting option, and that they can accelerate your life and career. No matter what it is you want to do and no matter your background or circumstances, it will create opportunities for you. This applies to any industry, and not just surveying! Apprenticeships provide a more accessible route to a career which may otherwise be difficult to enter.

Even if you decide in the end that, actually, surveying isn’t for you, you’ve still done something worthwhile – you’ve got fantastic experience and a professional career and skillset which you can take with you, wherever else you decide to go.

Q: What would be your advice for someone starting their career in the sector?

A: It’s very cliché, but I would say absorb everything like a sponge. It can be difficult to find the path to navigate when you’re new to an industry… you have to work hard, you have to stick it out, and it might be really difficult, but the results do pay off because you’re learning so much.

If you stick with it, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn – you’ll end up as a chartered surveyor, with a whole career ahead of you.

Q: What do you think needs to change to encourage more people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in the sector?

“Awareness is the biggest issue – awareness of both the sector and the opportunities apprenticeships provide.”

A: I’m part of RICS Matrics, and the RICS Inspire Ambassador scheme, and I see a lot of the hard work RICS is doing to increase diversity, inclusion and awareness. I also see how much UCEM are doing, and that’s the biggest thing we need to do as an industry, really – increase awareness.

Learn more: Be Part of the Change podcast episode 1 – women in the built environment

I don’t think people realise that the sector is an option, or even what surveyors do; the number of people who ask what a surveyor is, or assume we are all quantity surveyors, is incredible. When you try and explain what a building surveyor does, it is so difficult to explain the vast breadth of work and knowledge involved that it can be hard to do the profession justice. In reality, there are so many skills and specialisms involved that a surveying career can look very different from person to person, which is fascinating. It just shows how someone can make their surveying career exactly what they want it to be in the long run, which I think is very exciting for anyone, regardless of background.

Visit the webpage >

To find out more and get involved with the Be Part of the Change campaign, visit the homepage, and if you’d like to get in touch with our Student Ambassadors for EDI, email outreachandinclusion@ucem.ac.uk