The wheels turned faster than expected for Antionette Campbell, a woman whose career in a male-dominated sphere accelerated beyond expectations.
After three years as a bus driver at NZ Bus – New Zealand's biggest operator of urban bus services – Campbell was offered the opportunity to train to become an instructor, and she jumped at the chance.
"When I was a trainee bus operator, I told my husband – who's also a bus driver – that one day I'd like to be an instructor at the training school. I pretty much put it down as a five-year plan," says Campbell, based out of NZ Bus's North Shore depot in Auckland.
The five-year plan was completed way ahead of schedule for Campbell, who not only became a certified instructor in 2020 but is now also a driving assessor – the first woman to hold the position in NZ Bus's 25 years of operation and an example (published on International Women's Day) of what women can achieve.
Initially, the move to NZ Bus was a sideways step in Campbell's career. Having previously worked as an assistant property manager, she was ready to try something new.
"It's surprising how many of my skills from that role have been transferable to my work at NZ Bus," says Campbell, adding that good people skills have been vital to her success.
The opportunity for growth was also a major factor in her initial decision to join the company: "Promotions are a real possibility for anyone working at NZ Bus – that's something that was always made clear to me from the outset."
Toni Daynes, regional manager at NZ Bus's Tauranga depot, agrees. Having first entered the bus industry as an operations supervisor 13 years ago – at just 17 years old – Daynes found herself quickly climbing the ranks in her career too.
Last year she joined NZ Bus as a service delivery manager and, in less than two months, was promoted to regional manager. Now she's responsible for three NZ Bus depots across the Bay of Plenty with almost 250 staff, including everyone from drivers to management. She's also in the final stages of an Executive MBA, a decision supported by NZ Bus.
"I think one of the best parts of my role is to be able to offer opportunities for career progression. I really get a kick out of helping people achieve their goals," says Daynes, adding that NZ Bus is currently looking for new recruits.
The best thing anyone can do in a job interview for NZ Bus, she says, is to communicate their aspirations early on: "If you're interviewing for a driver position, don't be shy in telling us what your career ambitions are. I always latch onto that in interviews – I want to know our drivers' dreams so we can help them reach their goals."
Daynes points to the example of two female drivers who joined her team less than a year ago, and who now hold the top spots on their driving technique leaderboard.
"These women have a real passion for bus driving and for interacting with their passengers. We've now begun the process of putting them through their driving instructor tickets which is a really exciting development in their careers."
Campbell says the best part of her new role as a trainer is seeing new team members move through the school: "A lot of people start out very unsure of themselves but in a matter of months or even weeks we start to see them become such confident drivers.
"I was the same: I was petrified on my first day behind the wheel, but it only took a few weeks until I was totally comfortable.
However bus driving still isn't a profession known for its high uptake of women. The 2018 Census reported that only 21 per cent of bus drivers nationwide are women – but Daynes says numbers are on the rise.
"At NZ Bus we have around 1300 bus drivers across the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Wellington. Approximately 16 per cent of my drivers in Tauranga are women, which may not sound like a lot, but it is a significant increase from when I first started in the industry," says Daynes, adding that 40 per cent of her front-line management team are women, which is especially high for the industry.
"I enjoy working closely with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's transport operations team daily, most of whom are female also. I am chairwoman of our health & safety committee and I'm proud to say our most recently elected committee member is a female school bus driver who does an important job of representing her entire depot on Health and safety.
"No one day is the same in my operational role – a "normal" day for me includes staff performance management, data analysis or liaising with the council to optimise our overall service delivery for the public.
"So I'd like to encourage women from all walks of life to consider bus driving as a genuine career path with multiple opportunities, whether that's fleet engineering, driver training or management."
Barry Hinkley, NZ Bus CEO, says: "I am Looking forward to welcoming more females to the workforce as there are plenty of opportunities for career growth at NZ Bus."