Gender-inclusive making: eMERG

eMERG (India)

eMERG India ( was founded in 2006 by seven women in engineering and manufacturing who thought that there was no support or organisation which brought them together to trigger mutual learning and experience exchange. Thus they established eMERG, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to help female entrepreneurs, by identifying the problems faced by the entrepreneurs and to find solutions for the progress of the engineering and manufacturing sector. With this aim the initiative started to foster the networking between entrepreneurial women in engineering and manufacturing at a time when very few women were active in these sectors. Six years ago the organisation extended the outreach to women in Technology, Business, Profession and Service, covering all aspects of successful entrepreneurial businesswomen. Currently the organisation has around 300 members covering areas such as SAS (software as a service), software engineering, maintenance, and manufacturing.

According to our interviewee, women do not shy away from technical or science-oriented studies and professions in India. Statistics show that a high percentage of Indian women chose engineering studies and the classrooms are filled with approximately 50% of women doing engineering. Having finished their education, women engineers join the workforce, often in coding jobs as this is more convenient than manufacturing. But when married, they tend to drop out of their jobs as it is socially expected from them to look after the children, the household and the aged in-laws. Starting their own businesses and choosing an entrepreneurial path is even more difficult for most Indian women and they are faced with more challenges and less opportunities compared to male entrepreneurs.

Gender and other inequalities

eMERG aims to provide equal chances for women, making sure that women get the chance to realise their (entrepreneurial) ideas, to achieve the necessary mobility, decision making and economic empowerment. When asked what she understands about gender-equality our interviewee states: “Gender equality is very important, but it does not mean that we have to be like men. Having equality does not mean having everything the same. Equality is related to the wholeness of the woman, who wants to be free to persue her ambition or dreams in her life.”

eMERGE offers several activities to their members:

The initiative organises an International Women’s Conference once a year with around 100-150 participants. In this conference eMERG members meet face-to-face, listen to presentations from national and international female speakers and role models, exchange experiences and learn from each other. The conference is also the occasion to present the yearly eMERG Woman Achiever Award winners. This award is attributed to women entrepreneurs who are successful in their business. A special award is initiated for those who have shown “a very good initiative within their organisations” and “stepped out with their engagement.” So in 2019 they awarded two policewomen who have done an exceptional job in their organisation. This year eMERG wanted to award nurses but decided not to do so, as it was not possible to organise a physical event to attribute the honour to the awarded best service women due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging their efforts and contributions on stage provides not only motivation for the awardees, but is a source of inspiration for the audience.

eMERG organises trainings on e.g. ICT usage. In 2020 webinars were offered to the members on topics like resilience, but also dedicated to making something when you are at home, like clay jewellery, or cooking. Members cannot really start a business out of these trainings, but it helps them to cope with the Covid-19 situation.

From February 2020 on, eMERG is also a host institute for business incubators, an activity that had to move online as well. The incubator programme provided 6 webinars and 4 workshops over three months, on topics like productivity/quality, IPR and business contracts, networking, and ISO 9000 certification.

Best practices and challenges

A very successful programme was dedicated to entering new markets, and provided practical support to the 15 participants, helping them to individually plan their marketing strategy by the end of the training. Mentors were available to participants during the whole training period via email and phone, and sessions were recorded for those participants who were not able to attend a webinar or workshop. From the 15 participants, 12 successfully completed the programme and the feedback was very positive.

The trainers of these workshops were partly male, partly female. The interviewee stated that there are topics where the main selection criterion for trainers is their expertise, e.g. on IPR issues or ISO certification. But then there are women-sensitive things, for instance entrepreneurship development.

What happens is that for the development of entrepreneurship it’s different for women and it is different for men. If we want to urge women to come into business we have to look at other needs, for instance looking at their children, their household and aged in-laws. I don’t think that another gender would understand the real challenge of this kind of situation to do business. So you know, these things have to be understood by the person who is training”. (Interviewee, eMERG)

Asked about other ways to attract women to technology, science or entrepreneurship, she states:

I don’t think that you have to attract women by colours and womanly things, that is not the issue here. The issue is that you have to convince them that they can also be equally good.”

And the interviewee stresses the importance of role-models for women. They do not need to be super successful or stars, but closer to women. They can provide small hints and expertise, which really help. At the yearly conference the guest speakers become role models, but also other members of eMERG become role models as they show to others that women can be successful entrepreneurs and have innovative ideas that successfully enter the market.

And then there is one important issue to address in the work of eMERG. The first experience with the incubator showed that there was only a small number of women applying to it. It seems that women have not been passionate about the idea and maybe not self-confident enough that their business idea will take off and work. So the work on entrepreneurship development has to start early, e.g. by working with colleges in engineering. It is important that young girls already are convinced that it is good to be their own bosses, that they are able to create, to generate employment, and to help society. Being young they can still decide on their future career path. When women start their own business late in their careers, they have all the responsibilities for others, like children and in-laws, and it becomes even more difficult to take the steps and risks of entrepreneurship.

As already mentioned above, all the trainings had to be conducted online and it turned out to work well. Some women had to share their computer with their children to do the home-schooling, but for the large majority of women it was possible to have access to a computer. Practical sessions that considered the real needs of the trainees, accompanied by mentoring on phone and email, with sessions being recorded for those who could not attend, turned out to be a good alternative to face-to-face trainings.

I don’t think that you have to attract women by colours and womanly things, that is not the issue here. The issue is that you have to convince them that they can also be equally good.