12th October 2023

Voices of experience

To mark Black History Month, we spoke with three Trading Standards leaders about discrimination, the challenges of implementing positive change, and why it is important to keep pushing for a fairer society beyond the Trading Standards profession.

By Richard Young
You will fall down, you will cry; but just get up again and keep going, regardless of what colour your skin is, what country you come from, or what accent you have
I have seen a shift from a predominantly White male leadership, with some of the local authorities within London now being headed by women and more Black and Asian people becoming managers
I definitely felt alone in my first year as a Head of Service, which is why I have always encouraged London colleagues to progress, to reach their full potential
Something has begun, something has started. But if it feels like nothing has moved forward, people start to feel frustrated, and like they’re just making noise for the sake of it

After almost 30 years in Trading Standards – during which she has worked for several UK local authorities at TSO and Manager level, and as an independent Trading Standards practitioner seconded to regulators and enforcers in the Caribbean – Tendy Lindsay was appointed Chair of CTSI in October 2022. As she explains, she has a lifelong passion for social justice and fair play, something which began at an early age and has carried through into her career.

“At school, I was always a prefect and I always tried to work with people to make things right in whatever environment,” Tendy says. “I grew up as a Christian and in church you’re always encouraged to help out. I think it starts from back then – that whole thing of loving and serving one another, helping and looking after one another, taking ownership and being responsible.

Tendy Lindsay

“I went to King’s College London to study law, where I also learned about helping each other. I was involved with the Student Union, and we helped students with problems getting funding or accommodation. I’ve always been political; even as a teenager, I used to go around with my parents canvassing and dropping off leaflets for the Labour Party. I remember campaigning for Diane Abbott when she was running to be the first Black female MP.

“In a way I’m quite lucky that I come from a family where my parents always made us work. We were encouraged to make our own money. And education was always key.

“Studying law, I saw the importance of ensuring first and foremost that everyone has access to some kind of legal advice and representation, regardless of what they’re going through, whether it’s a criminal matter or whether it’s the buying and selling of goods and services. When you understand law, you’re able to help other people, and you’re able to help yourself as well.

“Because of my South African heritage, the focus was always on injustice. Understanding human rights was very, very important. What I really enjoyed about studying law was understanding that everyone has the right to be treated properly, and all of us are equal before the law.”

Valerie Simpson

Seizing opportunities
Like Tendy, Valerie Simpson also has a lifelong passion for justice, as well as a personal ambition to realise her full potential. Now, as Assistant Director for Environmental Health and Regulatory Services at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Valerie is in a position to offer career advice to others – including tips on how to overcome obstacles.

At the beginning of her career, Valerie says, “I was interested in law and enforcement. I saw an advert for a job in Trading Standards for licensing enforcement at Croydon Council and applied for it. I had transferable skills – one of the key things is that there are lots of transferable skills in the profession, and as your career progresses you can hone in on some of them.

“Prior to joining Croydon, I was working as a Parking Control Officer and studying for a legal executive course in the evenings. I was inspired and supported by senior colleagues and encouraged by my line manager at Croydon Council to complete the Diploma in Consumer Affairs (DCA) and additional DCA papers, which prepared me for the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) route.”

As a Black woman, did Valerie face any discrimination when she started in Trading Standards? “Not so much as an Enforcement Officer at Croydon, but I’ve felt that more as I have progressed to becoming a manager,” she says. “I was quite keen and proactive, and I suppose I felt ‘singled out’ by some of my colleagues when I wanted to do the Diploma in Trading Standards to progress. It was never about thinking that I was better than anyone else; it was simply knowing that I had more potential within myself.

“Soon after I qualified, I progressed into a managerial role at another London local authority and my manager there at the time was quite supportive. It was him who said that there’s a world outside Trading Standards, which opened my eyes in terms of career development.”

Samuel Abdullahi

Samuel Abdullahi is a Regulatory Team Leader with Brent and Harrow Trading Standards, and Chair of the CTSI London Branch. Like Tendy and Valerie, his journey into Trading Standards came about through a desire to help and support people. “I was working for IKEA, supervising customer service,” he says. “[CTSI London Branch member and Westminster Team Leader, who was then with Brent and Harrow Trading Standards] Giles Speid came in to do a talk on customer service training, the Sale of Goods Act, and all the rest of it. I just started thinking, you know what, actually, I can do that and it sounds interesting.

“At the end of it, I went to Giles and said, ‘I’m interested in joining Trading Standards, what do I do?’ He said, ‘Well funnily enough, we’ve got a job coming up soon.’ I ended up applying for a trainee position, and I got it. This was back in 2004 and I’ve been doing it since then.”

Tendy’s route into Trading Standards was a family affair. “My mother was an Environmental Health Officer, and when I got my law degree she suggested coming in to see what they did,” she explains. “I went along and it so happened that one of the people there was a Chief Officer for Trading Standards. Because I’m quite nosy, I would just speak to him and ask him to explain the profession and its different hurdles.”

At that point, a placement opportunity became available at Waltham Forest Trading Standards. “That’s when I met Chris Armstrong, Ed Chaplin and Robin Middleton,” Tendy says. “They were wonderful people, wonderful leaders. It was so inclusive, and it didn’t matter if you were a woman, or if you were Black; at that time they were really encouraging people of colour to come into the profession and other parts of local government.”

However, Tendy still encountered situations where colleagues and managers weren’t so encouraging and supportive. “It happened all the time, and it’s still happening now,” she says. “But I always tend to concentrate more on positive things that you can change. I was always encouraged to never look at what you can’t do, to concentrate on your strengths and things you can change. And that’s absolutely why I became involved with CTSI.

“Leadership isn’t about control, it’s more about ownership, about being responsible for something.”

Overcoming the gatekeepers
In 1996 Tendy began training Trading Standards Officers, preparing materials and helping them to pass their exams. “That’s when I first noticed some of the discrimination,” she says. “There was one vacancy for two trainees, and my White colleague got the job even though I had passed with much better marks than him.”

Valerie also has first-hand experience of gatekeeping – people in senior roles excluding others from career development or regional opportunities, irrespective of qualifications, experience or talent. “It used to be very apparent that there were a lot of males at the top of the profession; I was very much the minority as a Black female Head of Service for Trading Standards,” she says. “I remember doing a presentation at a Society of Chief Trading Standards Officers (SOCTSO) meeting [the precursor to ACTSO]. I recall talking about what Chief Officers do, and I had a slide with a picture of someone playing golf. It was almost tongue-in cheek and yeah, there were a few chuckles at the time. Golf is not necessarily accessible to everyone and certainly not as common a pastime for Chief Officers in London today.

“Things have changed since then; currently we have a Black female Chair of our Institute and a Black female Vice Chair of ACTSO, but it has taken years for this to happen. I definitely felt alone in my first year as a Head of Service, which is why I have always encouraged London colleagues to progress, to reach their full potential. We are now starting to see more women and people of colour in the profession who are represented at board level.”

According to Tendy, “What often happens is that when it comes to senior positions, even though you know you’re better qualified and you’re better experienced, that you can deliver, you don’t get the position. It’s so difficult – you have a glass ceiling.

“This is why I say our work is about equality, it’s about fairness. Let’s have systems that are transparent so that everyone who deserves it can get a chance to get whatever position they are qualified for.”

On the subject of transparency, Samuel points out that one of the main obstacles to getting to grips with the problem is an absence of data. “I’m a Team Leader, and there are several other Black Team Leaders within London because it’s quite a diverse city. But I think probably outside London that’s not necessarily the case. One of the main problems is the lack of data around this.

“There’s a kind of self-perpetuating thing about this, in that it’s only people who are aware that there’s a problem and want to do something about it that will get involved.

“We need to do a deep dive into some of the data we’ve gathered – through the Diversity Survey, for example – that data needs to be analysed. We did one in London a couple of years ago, for which the take-up was good, and then we subsequently did another one last year and unfortunately, the take-up on that one wasn’t as great. As Chair of the London Branch, I’ve tried to figure out the reason behind that.

“I think people want to see that something is being done. Are people saying, ‘Well, here we go again, it’s just another technical exercise but realistically, it’s not going to change anything’?

“We are trying to make change overall, not just within London, but within the whole of CTSI and the profession itself,” Samuel says. “There is a need to increase membership engagement and highlight how we can change behaviour and thinking patterns.”

Supporting women
Historically, Trading Standards has been very White, very male, and very England-centric. Some elements of that have changed over the years, but much work still needs to be done. “The question is, do we serve all sections of the community?” Valerie says. “A lot of decisions have been made by looking at a narrow profile of England and Wales basically.

“I’ve seen a lot more women come into the profession. It used to be very male-dominated but there are a lot more women Heads of Service now as well.

“I’m not sure how much gender discrimination there is now, but there definitely used to be. When I joined Brent & Harrow, which was very male-dominated, on my first day there was just one other female Enforcement Officer. And I remember her saying, ‘Oh, thank God, there’s another woman’. A lot has changed since then and we have seen an increase in the number of female managers and senior officers over the years.”

Samuel says he has also noticed signs of positive change. “I have seen a shift from what has been predominantly a White male leadership, and over the years, I have seen other progressive change, with some of the local authorities within London now being headed by women and more Black and Asian people becoming managers.

“I’ve seen Tendy, Giles and Valerie starting the Race & Equalities Working Group, which has brought different things to the forefront internally within CTSI, including how we can improve going forward.”

There is still the major issue of Trading Standards being an ageing profession though, Samuel points out.  “I joined when I was 30 and I was one of the youngest within my team. A few years later we had a few people joining who were younger but that’s about it. The average age has been increasing and there haven’t been enough young people joining the profession.

“Within the past few years the Regulatory Services Apprenticeship was introduced, which has given a totally different way for young people to join, but even then, it’s not geared specifically to Trading Standards. The average age of the profession now is about 50.”

Room for improvement
So what can be done to make Trading Standards a more inclusive and dynamic profession, able to attract more young people to its ranks?

“It’s not rocket science, it’s just about having the will to push things forward,” Samuel believes. “There’s a role for CTSI as a professional body to foster that and support that going forward. We’ve made a start, but it’s been a hard battle.”

There are many opportunities, and a pressing need, to make Trading Standards more fair and equitable – but there is a risk that, without evidence of change, people might come to see certain initiatives and campaigns merely as box-ticking exercises, sugar-coating real problems with superficial short-term solutions. To combat this, Samuel says, there is a need to demonstrate real progress. “People can make noise, but if nobody is listening, people in Trading Standards who feel their voice isn’t being heard will potentially move somewhere else completely different.

“Something has begun, something has started. But if it feels like nothing has moved forward, people start to feel frustrated, and like they’re just making noise for the sake of it. Things are happening, even though that might be in the background. It starts from the top, making sure that the top is committed to representation across various groups. I think the main thing is to do with a change of mindset.

“One of the biggest problems is that people often aren’t prepared to speak out about the challenges they face,” Samuel adds. “If you’re talking about Trading Standards in general, that’s fine. But if you start talking about it in terms of your council or your borough, then it becomes very political. You need to get clearance from their press team – and obviously, if it’s negative press then nobody wants to get involved.”

Valerie agrees that while certain things have improved, that’s just a starting point. “I think that CTSI are now being more proactive and we have started discussions around race and equality,” she says. “For example, at our London Branch Race and Equalities meeting we’ve talked about the College of Fellows, because that was such a mystery – it was like a secret club. By asking questions, being more proactive, and being more focused, London has made a point of supporting people with nominations and encouraging more people to put themselves forward.”

Career advice
On the subject of career progression, Valerie has some practical advice: “A key part of every management role that I have had, is that satisfaction of seeing others develop and grow. Everyone’s an individual; I’m naturally ambitious and always keen to stimulate my intellect,” she says. “I’m always thinking, ‘What else can I learn?’ – I think that it is important to grab any learning opportunities that you can. This could be anything from Lead Officer roles for projects or working groups, to attending strategic board meetings, or meeting with Elected Members.

“I would say, it’s lovely to be encouraged and supported but you may not necessarily get this backing from your line manager, so it’s important that you can back yourself. Think about what you’d like to achieve, ask yourself where you want to be in three to five years’ time, and find out what you need to do to get there. I also found that when I first became a manager, it was very useful to have a mentor.”

Tendy also has advice about navigating issues of discrimination. “First and foremost, if you’re a woman, just be prepared for the challenges that you’re going to face,” she says. “You’ve got to be really strong in character. People will always be watching what you do, and no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, how intelligent or how many qualifications you have, they will want to tell you what to do and will still want to put you down. So you’ve got to find strength somehow, or mechanisms to cope.

“Whether you’re dealing with managers, colleagues or businesses, there’s always a need to be strong, but more important, to be diligent because everything you’re going to do is going to be scrutinised ten times over. Just work hard and make sure you’re qualified in what you do, and continually be updating your knowledge in terms of professional practice. Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you’re prepared and just have tenacity to keep going. You will fall down, you will cry; but just get up again and keep going, regardless of what colour your skin is, what country you come from, or what accent you have.

“White people – men and women – can be treated badly because they’ve got an accent, or they come from a different social background or part of the country. Whether it’s deliberate, or it’s unconscious bias, it happens a lot and it’s just ridiculous.

“I think it’s important to remember to view yourself as an individual, and to have great aspirations. But to achieve those aspirations you’ve got to face obstacles – they’re going to happen.”

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