Interview with Mabintou Kolley
Photography by Chantal Azari, Hair by hauseofshee, Makeup by Zakiyah Shani
To mark International Women’s Day 2023 we interviewed 6 powerful and inspirational women all working in different career fields. Today’s profile is Mabintou, a Senior Product Designer in cybersecurity and business owner.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognise and uplift women breaking barriers and doing amazing things that help push our society forward, in whatever way that looks like to them. That could be running a business, being a senior manager, creating content or being a stay at home mother/ homemaker and beyond. It’s all about celebrating all women and how we make the world go round.
What is your job now and how long have you been doing it?
I am a senior product designer in cyber security and founder of Hummmble. I’ve been a designer for 7 years now but I’ve done such a mixture of work within those years including freelancing and being the co-founder of an agency.
How did you get into the job you do now?
I am completely self-taught! I studied architecture and knew quite early on that the way the course was structured wasn’t for me. I took it upon myself to look at alternative options, started freelancing as a designer with the creative skills I already had, plus some of the new ones I taught myself, and the rest is history.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I enjoy the final impact the most. Design is highly overlooked but great design improves your standard of living and I don’t think people realise how the smallest changes to a product you use daily can make life that little bit smoother or more enjoyable. It’s nice to be able to bring your creative ideas to life before your very eyes.
What advice would you give somebody who is interested in becoming a product designer?
I would always say discovery is important. Look for problems in the tech products you use daily and start drafting ideas of how you can improve them, even if it’s on pen and paper. The next stages would entail user research and then to get to grips with the software we use to design, but the starting point is always creativity and empathy for other users.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman?
The tech sector is incredibly male dominated. It’s one of those industries, like many others, that are referred to as pale, male and stale. I’ve always been one of few women in the room, coupled by often being the youngest, and often one of the only black women too. I think I’ve definitely been underestimated a lot because of my identity so at this point in my career it’s important to be on the right team. Women need to be in working environments that help and allow them to thrive, understanding that they may make choices that put their health, possible children or family first and not penalise them for that. We’ve got a long way to go still but I always try to make positive changes as I work my way up, even via mentoring young women in the field or choosing talented female freelancers to work with for my own business.
Is the career you have now the one you dreamed of when you were younger? If not, what was it?
I always wanted to design everything. I wanted to (and still want to) design clothes, then furniture, then homes and now here I am in tech designing interfaces, leading in design. It’s funny because I know that everything I’ve ever wanted to design are things on my to-do/bucket list so I guess I’m constantly carving out the career I dreamed of which is crazy to think about.
If you could invite three inspirational women, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
This is a tough one! I would love to have a dinner party with Rihanna because I love how she lives life on her own terms and she’d be a good time, Candice Brathwaite because I feel like she’s a digital big sister that every women needs and probably Emma Grede because she’s one of the handful of people I admire when it comes to business.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self to worry less. I was always concerned about my future and had this fear of underachieving but I’m more relaxed now and focused on enjoying the journey. It’s so important to embrace the journey.