“There is something so empowering about the open road,” says Carla Seymour Mansell, who manages trucking company Seymours Transport Service (STS), a Gisborne-based, award-winning, family-run firm that specialises in log cartage. “I guess it’s a bit like being out on the ocean. It’s just you and your board. On the road, it’s just you and your truck. Women can excel in this industry. Women are self-motivated, resilient, multi-taskers. This puts women in a great stead to rise to the challenge to do the job bigger, better, faster and more efficient than your last drive.”
Though there is much room for improvement, and, Carla admits, women “remain an untapped pool of resource” within the industry, she does believe things are changing for the better. Currently, around four percent of truckies in New Zealand are women, which is behind the US’s six percent, but well ahead of the UK where only around one percent of lorry drivers are ladies.
“In my 13 years I’ve certainly noticed a change in the ratio of male to female drivers, and it’s refreshing,” says Carla. “Women are waking up and are realising that they can bring immense value and they can rise to their male counterparts.”
STS was founded by Carla’s father, Charlie Seymour, so she grew up around the industry. “You could find me from a very young age, running around our yard and going along for rides,” she chuckles. “Some of my first words were even truck brands—Foden and—and I proudly recited the number of any truck I pointed to!”
However, Charlie would have preferred she practised law. “I guess Dad thought that law would be well suited to my vivacious character and the fact that I never back away from tackling the big issues! I did go away, and I did study, however home was always calling me. I knew where I had to be, and I knew what my mission was.”
Charlie nearly got his wish for Carla now has a prominent health and safety role within the industry.
“People think that driving a truck is easy,” she continues, “that you just sit back, drive, and the job is done. But that’s so wrong. It’s a seriously important responsibility, commanding the road with a beast that must be tamed and led by the driver.”
Women generally cannot be claimed to have an instinctive mechanical sense… They have shown, however, that if to learn the mechanics is a necessary step in becoming an efficient driver for war work, they ‘can take it’.” – New Zealand Herald, 1941
It’s a task that requires optimum levels of concentration, quick thinking, and problem-solving capabilities.
“You need to be able to navigate some particularly gnarly roads and corners. You need to be able to communicate and find ways to continuously improve. It’s a challenging job, but also incredibly rewarding.”
STS driver Janie Wirepa agrees. “I love being on the road,” she says. “There are few better feelings than being out there when everything is running smoothly and I’m driving to the best of my ability. I love improving. And the camaraderie between truck drivers is awesome.”
Janie has been driving logging trucks for the last couple of years, before that she drove dump trucks and spent nine years driving a school bus and bread trucks. It’s something she always dreamt of doing and says that reactions to her career choice are generally positive—though gets the occasional strange look from the older generations.
The biggest misconception, she jokes, is that she must be a “butch lesbian!” and admits that being away from her kids for long stretches is the toughest part of the job. The greatest part, though, is driving State Highway 35 “the best road in the country” that is both “challenging and beautiful”.
“The industry is nothing without our drivers,” adds Carla. “It’s not a profession for the faint-hearted. Our drivers are at the pointy end of the industry. They are custodians of the goods they transport; they are mathematicians, they are complex problem solvers. They are first on, last off.”
And as for what women specifically bring to the role?
“We bring a different perspective! Our women drivers are awesome. They understand risk and manage it well. They respect the trucks; they are team players and they are always keen to take up a challenge. The industry needs more women leading the way and creating new paths forward based on transparency and inclusion.”
The Lorry Driving Lowdown
The world ‘lorry’ was first used in English in 1838 in reference to a train’s luggage compartment. Gottlieb Daimler built the first motorised lorry in 1896. (He also produced the first motorbike and taxi.)
In New Zealand, road freight transport accounts for two percent of the total workforce, transporting 92 percent of our total freight.
Around 80 percent of all inland freight around the world is transported by trucks, with around 85 percent of that cargo travelling 150km or less, from factories or ports to their final destinations.
Grocery stores would be sans stock in just a few days if it weren’t for truckies, and many other businesses wouldn’t be too far behind.