Our Women in Hi Vis: Merab Dickinson-Wilson

‘Our Women in Hi Vis’ is a series highlighting the awesome women shaping a new narrative of what it’s like to work in the construction industry. This week we caught up with Merab Dickinson-Wilson, lead programmer, to learn about her experience in the industry - particularly after returning to work as a new mum.

What’s a typical day like for you at Piritahi? 

No two days are the same and I’m consistently faced with new challenges. On any given day I’m supporting our project managers to set up their plans and key deliverables, pulling data to inform planned vs. actual progress, assessing risks, informing mitigation tactics - the list goes on! 

What do you enjoy about your role and the industry?  

I love the fast pace of the industry and at Piritahi particularly. I've worked on a few programmes in my time but this one is the most complex and exciting I've been involved with. The emphasis Piritahi places on innovation is really unique too. It’s great to be encouraged to test new ideas and see them become tangible outcomes in communities - it really humanises the work we do.  

The culture at Piritahi is also awesome. There’s a genuine sense of collaboration and teamwork here. Instead of pointing fingers when something doesn’t go perfectly to plan, everyone bands together to find solutions and move forward. It means we just get stuff done instead of spending time waiting for others to make decisions.

Why is an accurate programme so important? 

In short, you could say it ensures everyone is singing from the same song sheet, delivering work effectively, efficiently and on time. It also communicates and helps manage client and other external parties’ expectations of deliverables. Having a solid programme is pivotal to the success of any project, but ours really is lean, mean and fast.

What we're trying to achieve is on a huge scale with a lot of risks involved, so a well-managed programme is crucial for us to be able to break down, plan contingencies and tackle our workload in digestible chunks whilst closely monitoring our critical path items. 

What's so unique about Piritahi's programme?

Most construction programmes are supposed meet many purposes in theory, but in practice are quite static and only updated when a programmer (like me) gets around to updating it. This means they often don't reflect what's actually happening on the ground and aren't created by the people doing the day-to-day work.

At Piritahi, we tap into the core of a programme's function, using ours as a tool to empower project teams to deliver. It’s extremely dynamic and central to everything we do. We also strategically chose to use a web-based project management tool that, additional to traditional programming functionality, enables us to unlock distributed ownership, multi-disciplinary integration and active collaboration.

What are some challenges you’ve faced working in a male-dominated industry? 

My experience so far has been good! I’ve always felt respected voicing my opinions. We regularly have healthy intellectual spars in the office and on site, and I feel totally comfortable standing up for myself and telling it how it is. Despite often being the only woman in the room and surrounded by people who are senior to me by years of experience, I feel empowered rather than intimidated which is awesome.

A specific challenge I've recently dealt with has been everything that comes with returning to work after having a baby. I dived into my role at Piritahi three months after having my first child. Figuring out exactly how I was going to balance work with being a new mum was definitely stressful, but I honestly could not have asked for a better workplace to return to. Piritahi really is a great place for new parents!

With more and more women joining the industry, I think it’s important that everyone, whether male or female, gives credit where credit is due.

Tell us more about returning to work as a new mum? 

Being a new mum and taking on a new role, I naturally questioned if I was doing justice at both home and work. There has always been – to some degree – an attitude or stereotype that women should stay home after having a child, so at first I was nervous about telling people I had a baby at home. There’s a quote that I think a lot of women can relate to – 'we expect women to work like they don’t have babies to raise, and raise babies like they don’t have to work'. I’m extremely lucky that my very supportive partner and I could work out a solution that allows us both to achieve our goals of being 100% present parents whilst still having fulfilling work lives. 

I was actually still breastfeeding when I started my job and was immediately provided with a space to pump when I needed to. I felt no judgement whatsoever which as a new parent can be hard to find!

Everyone at Piritahi has been respectful of my situation and helped make the transition back to work a breeze.

What’s on the horizon for you in 2020? 

I’ve recently been promoted to Lead Programmer which is really exciting. It definitely reassures me that I’m doing a good job. I’m still in the early stages of my career so it’s a big personal achievement to take on a leadership role in such a large-scale project. I've also taken up further tertiary study in Construction Management - as if there wasn't enough on my plate!

I’m looking forward to the new challenges this year will bring and to use my learnings to contribute to Piritahi's ethos of continuous improvement. 


A massive thanks to Merab for sharing her story with us. If you’re reading this and keen to be become part of the team at Piritahi, check out our careers page for more information and current opportunities.