8th January 2021

A wake-up call for equality

The new CTSI Race & Equalities Working Group has been set up to help encourage a more inclusive and diverse trading standards profession.

By Richard Young
COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting BAME members more than their White counterparts. Colleagues from the BAME community are anxious
We need to be in the places where people from the BAME community and younger people are. If we’re not doing anything different, nothing will change

The brutal and appalling killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sent shockwaves around the US and beyond, sparking international protests against the endemic forms of racism and discrimination which blight the lives of millions. For many, Floyd’s death served as a wake-up call, bringing to the fore the responsibility of individuals and organisations to acknowledge the reality of racism, and to rethink their own inherent prejudices.

According to Tendy Lindsay, a Chartered Trading Standards Practitioner who sits on the CTSI Council representing the London Branch, many felt that trading standards had a duty to speak out. “People started contacting me, saying ‘What is trading standards doing about this issue?’” she says. “CTSI is a membership organisation for enforcement officers, similar to the police. I made it my business to go and find out what’s really happening. And I realised we don’t really do a lot with respect to race matters.”

The realisation spurred Lindsay to push for the creation of the CTSI Race & Equalities Working Group, an initiative which, according to its mission statement, has been ‘established to ensure that the Institute not only upholds but is seen to uphold the highest principles of equalities, […] acting as a beacon for positive change within the Institute and wider profession.’

Elizabeth Pollard, a Trainee Trading Standards Officer at South Lanarkshire Council, felt it was important to become involved with the Working Group for a number of reasons. “I decided to join partly because of what happened with the George Floyd murder,” she says. “It wasn’t only people in the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] community who related to it – it was all humans, because no human being should be treated like that. But I think a lot of BAME people thought that could have been their brother, their father, their uncle, their cousin. And even though it was thousands of miles away in America, we felt it.

“I also felt there was a need for the Working Group because we’re going through the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting the BAME community – and that’s because of social inequalities that exist.”

According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for England and Wales, Black men have the highest rate of death from COVID-19, 2.7 times higher than their White counterparts. Black women are twice as likely to die from the disease as White women. The ONS report finds that ‘ethnic differences in mortality involving COVID-19 are most strongly associated with demographic and socio-economic factors, such as place of residence and occupational exposures, and cannot be explained by pre-existing health conditions’.

Fakir Osman, Trading Standards Manager at Derby City Council, also believes COVID-19 needs to be part of the Working Group’s focus, and sees data as central to understanding the issue.
“[CTSI needs to know] what’s the data in terms of its members,” he says. “What percentage of CTSI members are from the BAME community?

“It’s come to the fore with Black Lives Matter on one side, but also because of COVID-19. It’s disproportionately affecting BAME members more than their White counterparts. Colleagues from the BAME community are anxious about COVID. But what are we doing about it?”

Giles Speid, Trading Standards Team Manager for North West Westminster, says that getting to grips with the numbers is crucial to taking issues of equality seriously. “The McGregor-Smith Review says that the number-one starting point in tackling the problem is knowing how many people you’re dealing with,” he says, in reference to the 2017 government-commissioned independent report by Baroness McGregor-Smith, which examined issues affecting BAME groups in the workplace.

“We don’t know how many people have left the industry, or how many people have come into it. We don’t know who they are, where they are, what position they hold. And we need that.”

Professional pride

For Lindsay, setting up the Working Group has been about taking pride in the trading standards profession. “I don’t see the point of being part of the profession if you do not contribute and give back to it. I’ve always been very passionate about giving back since joining the profession in 1994,” she says. “So when I was being asked about this issue I thought, ‘This is a bit embarrassing for the profession.’ I started thinking about how many Black people we actually have in trading standards, which I had not given much regard before.”

Pollard has first-hand experience of a lack of diversity in trading standards. “I’ve been to a couple of seminars or meetings, both in Scotland and in England, and apart from one person, I had to join the Race & Equalities Working Group to see other Black people in trading standards,” she says.

Setting up the Working Group has also encouraged Lindsay to be more forthcoming about her own experiences. “I’m trying to make everyone aware that there is unconscious bias within the profession. It happens. It’s not necessarily that people are horrible, but they have a certain bias, which produces biased outcomes,” she says. “I’ve always been the only Black woman on CTSI Council, for years and years. We’ve never had any persons of colour on the CTSI Board or the CTSI College of Fellows, and not many have worked for the CTSI Executive.”

That lack of representation can be profoundly damaging, she believes. “Even though Black officers come up with excellent project ideas, normally a White officer is selected to lead on those  projects,” Lindsay says. “So Black officers are always in the shadows. Even though they initiate the ideas and do the work, somebody else will be put in charge of the work they are doing.

“This is where the unconscious bias has an effect. This is how Black officers get left behind all the time, because they’re not normally in a position of power to say, ‘I want to do this’, or ‘I want to change this,’ or ‘I want to lead this particular project’. What happens is that their seniors are the ones that determine whether or not they can get the opportunity to get that position.”

Speid also highlights unconscious bias as a big problem (see his column on p26). “Trading standards can be very staid,” he says. “Other industries have moved with the times, but it’s almost as if we refuse to. If certain people in certain posts have a certain viewpoint, things don’t move because they feel everything is OK, and there’s no need for change. It’s not a bad industry, but it’s not an industry that has kept up to date with modern behaviours and demographic changes.”

“We need to look at equality generally, whether that’s race, religion, disability  or gender,” says Osman. “I don’t think there’s enough representation, and I think there needs to be, especially in roles higher up the chain. By not having this, I don’t think we represent the people that we’re supposed to represent.”

Building relationships

Pollard believes it will benefit the profession to face up to the problem and deal with it head-on. “I feel that we all as individuals, and as organisations, have an equal responsibility to uphold equality, equity, diversity and fairness for all,” she says. “CTSI’s goal is for a sustainable future for trading standards, and the future is more diversity; the UK will become more diverse and there’s an increase in BAME businesses, which contribute greatly to the economy. For us to be relevant, it is in CTSI’s best interest to be more diverse, and to make sure that we have the policies internally in place to promote that.”

Research published by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows ethnic minority businesses (EMBs) contributed £25bn to the UK economy in 2018, but many are being held back by barriers which hinder their growth, including a lack of support. Lindsay identifies this as a major issue for trading standards to address. “We’re missing an opportunity,” she says. “Minority businesses contribute a lot to the economy but we’re not really engaged much with them, and they’re often kind of looked down upon.

“There are some really good, innovative traders serving communities from India, or Africa, or China, or Turkey, or wherever, but they’re not aware of what trading standards can offer them. We need to be thinking about how we can engage better with them. They have so many ideas, about technology, about many different things, but we just don’t really engage with them or connect enough.”

Osman also thinks more could be done to work with both EMBs and BAME consumers. “From a teaching point of view, the messages aren’t there. So, for example, when it comes to Diwali, people are going and buying lanterns to light; they need to be given advice to make sure they’re safe. I think culturally and religiously we need to approach things differently. We have a role to educate and make people more aware.”

Speid thinks the best way to engage with EMBs is by spreading knowledge rather than handing out fines. “In  a London borough I used to work in, there is a very long road which has Asian jewellers and sari shops almost leapfrogging each other all the way along, and there was some un-hallmarked jewellery being sold there,” he says.

“We could have taken offences from up one end of the road, all the way down to the bottom. Instead, we set up a project of advice and guidance, and we swept the street with it. Once they knew what they had to do, once they knew that the law was, and we signposted them to the necessary Assay Offices, we never heard any more with regard to non-compliance. I took the view that they needed our help, our guidance. And it worked.”

Positive steps

Within trading standards, and within CTSI itself, there are clearly opportunities to create a fairer, more inclusive and diverse environment, which will ultimately be to everyone’s benefit. But it is also clear that such changes do not happen overnight. So what are the next steps?

Trainee officer Pollard thinks a good place to start is with recruitment, particularly of young people. “Possibly the biggest obstacle for a lot of young people is that they don’t even know trading standards is a profession,” she says. “I think it’s a matter of putting ourselves in the places where people from the BAME community and younger people are. If we’re not doing anything different, nothing will change.

“Also, we need to ask, who is the face of the company? When people go on the CTSI website, or our social media pages, are they seeing members of their community? Because that makes a massive, massive impact. A consideration for me before I go places is, how will people react to me being a woman of colour? Will I be accepted? How will I be treated? I know if I were to see people that look like me, and interact with people that look like me, it helps to quell those fears.”

Osman also believes overhauling the recruitment process should be a priority. “If you want to attract people from diverse backgrounds to senior roles, it helps if the people interviewing them are from diverse backgrounds as well,” he says.

Speid agrees, and thinks being more pro-active is key. “Waiting for time to change things hasn’t changed anything. We know that through unconscious bias people are likely to choose to promote people that look like them,” he says. When CTSI appoints its next Chief Executive, he says, “They have to lead from the top and be quite strident, and say, ‘This is the
way we want to go. We want to be fair. We want to be inclusive. We want to be welcoming.’ And they have to set that tone, from the top.”

“We need to acknowledge and accept that we have a problem,” says Lindsay. “We need to be more representative within our recruitment. When we recruit persons for the CTSI Board and other positions within CTSI, we need to make sure that diversity is actively encouraged. We need to understand cultural intelligence in order to help us make
fair decisions.

Despite the significant work that lies ahead, there is real reason for optimism. After all, when done properly, inclusivity is about involving everybody.

“What we are doing is really positive,” Lindsay says. “We want to be more diverse and inclusive. We also understand diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation. Organisations with diversity in the workplace achieve better business results, reap more profits and have a positive reputation.”

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