“We have so much power” – as individuals, human race and women. Thanks to Ronke Lawal for mentioning this in our interview to remind us of who we’re on International Women’s Day. We had the chance to chat with the force of nature that is Ronke Lawal, the founder of Ariatu Pr, a public relations firm that works with entrepreneurs and luxury brands to enhance their media presence. What her business does is truly essential for businesses owned by minorities to establish themselves authentically in the UK marketplace. We have had the privilege to profile some of Ronke’s clients whose business range from beauty, media, fashion and services. Ronke is not just behind the scene equipping and directing her clients, she is at the fore front with them even in meet and greets (We can testify – we’ve seen Ronke at work). Aside from that, she’s no stranger to Social Media, a tool she uses to educate and inform businesses on how they can scale.
In this interview, the PR maven talks hard on being an entrepreneur, how to be your authentic self and how women can stand out. Stay inspired!
Tell us about yourself, including what you do and how you got there?
I am a British Born Nigerian woman, born in Hackney, East London of Nigerian parents I pursued an International Business (Economics) degree graduated with Hons from The University of Lancaster, with a year in The University of Richmond, Virginia. I became self-employed in 2004, I whilst I was in a standard 9 to 5 management role, a role in which many people my age would have been happy to have stayed in for many years. It was an interesting position with lots of responsibility, however I became a robot, unhappy with what my job was turning me into, I was stressed and would often take that stress home with me. My life lacked dynamism and to some extent purpose. I felt strongly that I was not following my true life’s purpose and so I made a choice to start my own business which is definitely not for everyone. Many people thought I was crazy, I was after all only 23 years old and my only starting capital was my savings, I was taking a big risk although thankfully back then I still lived at home so that helped me to save money and reinvest it my business. I wanted to create a life that I loved and by starting my own business I felt that I was able to do that. From the very start of my business career I have loved working with small businesses and that has not changed, I have built up a strong reputation of working with exciting small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups.
What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
There is a sense of freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur, whilst you can’t necessarily just do what you want, your clients are your “bosses” you can define which direction you take your business and journey which is very exciting. It enables one to really seek out one’s core strength and purpose. I love the ability to redefine my own journey and to keep asking myself questions like: what is my purpose?, what am I doing this for? Am I making the best of my gifts?
The theme of this month is absolutely important to me. International Women’s Day celebrates the scientific, political, economic and social achievements of women. What does it signify to you?
It signifies an opportunity to reclaim our power and to shout about it but it is more than a campaign it is an energetic desire to assert change. It is so important that women uplift each other and uplift themselves. We have so much power, you only have to spend a few moments to look within your own network to find a woman who is amazing. You are amazing. I am amazing. WE are amazing. There is a certain energy and inner spirit that women are able to manifest (in fact it is within us all)and it is possibly through the struggles the gender stereotyping can create, which allows women in business to work differently. Women have a lot to balance in life; the perception of maternal instincts being paramount, the request to place ones partners needs ahead of their own, being bound to the notion of home-creation and child-rearing. None of these aspects of feminism are to be taken lightly or are they to be ignored however they cannot be used as shackles for women in a world so full of opportunity. The sexist mandates and restrictions of gender of inequality have held us back for far too long. Whilst it is not easy it is our time to ask for what we want (I made a video about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrCmapxbqmc)
Were you brought up to believe ambition was important? as a woman?
Yes and in fact whilst my mother encouraged ambition it was my father who truly drove it home, he asked me specifically about my dreams, what I wanted to be, who I wanted to become and he let me know that I could do anything. Not baring in mind that he was still a very traditional Nigerian man those conversations were truly important and signify why it is crucial that men also take up the responsibility of encouraging the women in their network.
How would you define women empowerment? What does it mean to you?
It means being courageous in all aspects of our lives, it means encouraging each other to be the best we can be no matter where we find ourselves. It is instill that sense of belief and power that is within all of us but which is often forgotten.
Have gender relations progressed?
They seem to have but there is still a long way to go, particularly in the African diaspora and on the continent. I wrote this a couple of years ago and I doubt little has change – http://www.ronkelawal.com/2015/07/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-africas.html Gender relations across Africa really needs to be worked on.
What’s the key to bridging gender gap?
Access to power and influence is the major key, if women have access to the roles that make a difference, to the opportunities and to the decision makers then the gap will shrink.
What is your biggest influence and/or icon?
Aside from amazing women like Mellody Hobson and Oprah Winfrey, there are many women in my own network who inspire me on a daily basis. I inspire myself!!! I have to, if I don’t believe in myself who will?
What are your main responsibilities and achievements at Ariatu Pr?
I have to take the lead on the PR and communications for a number of my clients, working on strategic development and messaging as well as enhanced media profile Working with all of the business that I have worked with on their PR and communications campaigns has been a true blessing. Every year that my business grows and works with more and more amazing businesses is an achievement for me!
What barriers have you faced, as a woman in your field? How did you overcome them?
Often the biggest barrier has been confidence in myself, as soon as I have been able to overcome any feelings of fear and doubt I have been able to thrive. That “fraud syndrome” is a real problem especially in a field like PR which encourages confidence, you spend a lot of time publicising the achievements of others that it is easy to forget oneself.
What do you think are some of the best ways that companies can support women’s ambition?
By encouraging a safe and fruitful space for growth, ensuring access to opportunity and development and making active points to ensure women feel encouraged throughout all stages of their professional lives, from entry to career breaks, maternity to promotion. It is essential!
What skills do you believe women need to have to stand out.
They need to stand firm and be confident in their skills, they need to speak up and speak out about their successes and their journeys. They need to be authentic and stay true to themselves, not to the ideals of others.
I’m a firm believer that it takes a village – in your career, business and personal affairs.
Who have been your most important professional mentors? I have had many mentors and they have all been important to me so it would be difficult to highlight any particular individuals but I am grateful for the part they have played. Mentoring is very important and can make a huge difference in one’s professional and business growth.
Are you optimistic about the future? Would be great to know why?
Yes, yes and yes! We are in digital age where we can share our stories freely across social media and take control of our narrative – we don’t have to wait for an invitation to speak up anymore we can use all of these platforms to speak up!
If you were to have dinner with 2 women you admire in the world, who would they be? and why?
Mellody Hobson and Oprah Winfrey – Just to spend a few moments in their company to thank them for their inspiration, they have been mentors from afar. I would definitely pay for their meal!! They deserve to be thanked for all that they have done.
What’s next for Ariatu Pr?
To grow, to thrive, to soar! working with bigger and more dynamic clients who just allow me to use my skills to bring out the best in them!
Image Credit: Emerzy Corbin