“There were no stories about black achievement… it’s like little girls of colour were invisible – I was invisible.”
Foluke Akinlose is 40 years old but she has dreamt of launching a magazine for women and girls of colour since she was a child. She remembers feeling disappointed while flicking through the pages of British magazines and realising that nobody looked the way she did, so she would spend her pocket money on imported American publications.
Foluke grew up and her love for magazines continued to grow with her. She became a trained journalist and in 1999 she launched ‘PRECIOUS‘, an online magazine aimed at black and Asian women in the UK. At the time, digital access was “slow and clunky”, as she describes it, but she saw the potential in this new platform and it excited her immensely.
“I knew it was going to be the way forward. It just made sense.”
PRECIOUS magazine was what Foluke sought but never found as a child and she hopes to create a legacy for future generations; where women and girls of colour know that they can achieve anything.
“It’s also about introducing young women to role models – people who are doing great stuff and want to share their stories with others.”
When I ask her if she sees herself as a role model, Foluke wavers.
“Some people think of me as a role model but I think it carries a lot of responsibility that word. Do I see myself as one? I don’t really… I don’t know!”
Nevertheless, her remarkable work through PRECIOUS magazine has influenced others and, in turn, has transformed the media to become more diverse and recognise the merit of women of colour in all industries. The PRECIOUS Awards, launched in 2007, has had a great impact on that.
“I think the awards have had an influence on the mainstream media. It is a lot more diverse today and I think in a way it is because of the work we’ve done.”
Black and Asian women are still largely misrepresented in mainstream media, but those in business are much less likely to be acknowledged for their achievements. The awards were founded to celebrate that achievement and support those women in their work environment, as well as inspiring and encouraging others to follow their dreams.
“For a long time, when women of colour were in the news was either about sport or some sort of entertainment-based story, and we’re doing other things really well,” said Foluke.
“My nieces are now 10 and 12 and they come to the Awards ceremonies and see these women of colour being acknowledged for their merit. To them, it is a normal thing – I suppose that is my biggest achievement. The know that they can be anything they want.”
Foluke encourages other young girls to feel the same way and pursue the career they aspire, no matter the obstacles, including race.
She said: “Sadly, it’s the world we live in and we can’t stop some things from happening but that doesn’t mean we don’t go and try doing things. Yes, it is harder, but you need to press on and don’t let people deter you.
“When you make a decision, follow it. If it doesn’t work, that’s OK. We all have failed at stuff before.”
She also calls at the importance of surrounding yourself with people you trust: “Get a mentor, somebody you trust, and surround yourself with people who think like you and will encourage you because business can be a lonely place. You need support around you.”
Foluke has been awarded an MBE in 2010 for her work in the creative industries and carries that responsibility in her work. She is now starting a project with young girls of colour in schools, which is to be launched soon.