What if We Lived in a World Built by Women: Builder & Designer Extraordinaire Emily Pilloton-Lam

Episode 03

In this episode of the What If Series, we are asking some big questions around using your experience and skills to start something completely new or get imaginative on how you can positively affect your community with what you already have. What do you bring to the table with the whole totality of your experience that could be a force of good for your community or for the people around you?

Our guest is leader and teacher Emily Pilloton-Lam, an inspiring thinker and author of several books and creator of the nonprofit – Girls Garage. She’s taught thousands of gender expansive youth how to use power tools and to dream of a world built more equitably and sustainably, and she’s dreamt about what it would look like if girls/women were empowered to facilitate the surroundings in our world differently–with an eye toward thinking more communally and factoring in the lived experience of the people around them. 

In this episode Emily and Jen discuss:

  • The shocking statistics around gender imbalance in Architecture, Engineering and Construction Worlds
  • Why power tools can make you feel superhuman
  • How it takes messy courage to change course and start something new
  • Dreaming of a world built by women

Emily gives us insight into the big “what if” question we might all ask ourselves: what if we could affect our world with the skills and experience we have right now? 

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here, your delighted, host of For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show. I’m grinning because I just finished today’s interview and it just inspired me and delighted me. My brain was just firing off ideas and responses and I think you’re going to love it. We’re in a series right now called For the Love of What If, and this was just some weird idea I had last year and I’m like, I just think we as a community are just sitting on a gold mine of possibility at all times and we’re just a couple of clicks away from it always. My thought was just, what if? What if we went for something? What if we tried something new? What if we pulled the trigger on a thing that we’d been marinating in for a while? Why not us?

Just what if? What if we went for it? And not just in one capacity, not like what if we tried a new career? Although that’s embedded in the series, but just kind of all the things like, what if I ran a marathon? I’ve been thinking about it for a decade, whatever, whatever it is. So we wanted to build capacity around asking our own selves that question, what if? What if I went for it? So in this episode, I really love this one because this feels so inspiring. We’re imagining what it means to use the skills and gifts that you already have. So this is your background, this is your vocation, this is your education, this is your experience. So you have this asset that you’re holding.

And the question in this series around what if, and specifically what this guest is going to bring to the table today is what if you used some imagination, some vision in how your skills, the one that you are already using, could affect your community for good or even just how you approach your job, how you execute your job, where you do your job? What do you bring to the table with your whole thing that could be a force of good for your community or for the people around you? So I love this question. I just absolutely love it because all of us are already sitting here on top of something. Every one of you listening has something that you are good at and experienced at.

So this is just like a tweak of vision and innovation. Our guest today has degrees in architecture and design, but she decided to approach how she uses both that education and skillset to affect the world around her. So it’s so exciting to hear her talk. Among many thing, Emily Pilloton-Lam created a nonprofit called Girls Garage where she teaches young girls and all really gender expansive youth, to build with their hands and learn power tools and build confidence not just in their designs but in their capacity, their capability to build their designs. I love this idea so much, of using our skills and strengths to build a better world, and in Emily’s case, she went from this moment of feeling what a power tool was like in her hands for the good of the community, and it changed your life.

Do you know that only 13% of engineers and only 20% of licensed architects are women? It’s pretty low. That’s pretty underrepresented. And only 30% of women who earn a degree in engineering are still working in the field 20 years later. So we have a retention problem as well as just getting women in the pipeline in the first place. So what I think about that … and this is a conversation that Emily and I had, which is, it’s both sobering and exciting when you think about what’s possible, all of that female brain trust just drained out of the industry over the years. What would the world look like if women were also helming all sorts of positions in the industry?

What would a world also built by women look like? Then what would it do for us? Would we trust our hands more? Would we trust our voices more? Would we trust our vision and our creativity more, if the environment around us was built more by us and for us. I think it would ultimately begin to create a more equitable world. So again, we’re going to talk about all this and more today with Emily Pilloton-Lam. Emily is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit, Girls Garage. Designer, a builder and educator and author. She has taught thousands of young girls and gender expansive youth how to use power tools and weld and build projects for their communities.

Emily is everywhere. She has presented her work and ideas on the TED stage, The Colbert Report, CNN and even in the whole documentary film, If You Build It. She’s the author of three books, about the power of community-based architecture and she’s a lecturer in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley. She lives with her family, human and canine both in Oakland, California. I found her fascinating and interesting and smart and just a genuine visionary in her specific corner of the world. And I cannot wait for you to hear this conversation and I hope it gets your brain buzzing around what it is that you have to offer … so you guys, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with the absolutely fascinating, Emily Pilloton-Lam. 



Mentioned in this Episode: 


Emily’s Article “To Remake the World, Give Girls All the (Power) Tools”

Girls Garage Website

If You Build It Documentary

Emily’s Ted Talk “What If Women Built the World They Want to See”

Girls Garage Book “How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See”
by Emily Pilloton-Lam



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