Want Innovation to Thrive? Create Open Welcoming Environments

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By: Guest contributor, Tue Mar 7 2023

Author: Guest contributor

Alice F. Squires, co-editor of Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership: Practical Research from Women Leaders, explores strategies for developing four types of leadership for today’s world.

A team of systems engineering experts and leaders were preparing to present examples of their research and practical guidance at an open technical session of an international conference focused on a systems approach for a better world. However, several minutes prior to the start of the session, it was announced that the session was sponsored by the Empowering Women Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) initiative, a group that advocates for women. Several men in the room, some of whom had been patiently waiting in anticipation for the session to start, gathered their things and hurriedly left. What happened? Let’s look to strategies for developing four types of leadership for today’s world, and to the areas of emerging trends in systems engineering leadership addressed by the 26 women authors of Springer’s Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership: Practical Research from Women Leaders book, for some guidance and related discussion points.

Trend #1: Growing Demand for Essential skills

Resilient leadership (see Figure 1) is key for effectively leading others, especially through adversity and change, and starts by first taking care of ourselves followed by understanding our life purpose, practicing mindful reflection, and pursuing positive relationships and personal mastery. Next, we can focus on developing essential skills, also known as soft skills. These human skills are increasingly in demand as our relationships become more interdependent and complex on a global level. For women especially, promoting oneself into leadership from any position or role is an important essential skill. We show how to promote oneself into leadership in Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership.  We also show that, for systems engineers specifically, a combination of influence and persuasion and the professional systems engineering competencies as outlined by the INCOSE Systems Engineering Competency Framework are key to enabling systems engineering throughout the organization and preserving the strategic thread. And we demonstrate that knowledge sharing and mentoring are crucial for growth, opportunity, and overall career progression. Essential skills also include 1) empathy and perspective taking, and 2) an understanding of the sense of belonging. Both are essential to understanding challenges for women and men when it comes to team participation and engagement. Both men and women can feel excluded from participating in teams and sessions where their presence may not be treated as favorable, or that appear to be meant primarily for men, or women. In these cases, additional steps may need to be taken so that all genders feel welcome.

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Figure 1. Strategies for Developing Resilient Leadership (credit: Alice F. Squires)

Trend #2: Emerging Social Trends with a Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Inclusive leadership (see Figure 2) supports contributions from each member of the team and allows the team to learn and grow together. Inclusive leadership requires a humble commitment to learn about others while also seeking to identify and understand our own biases. Strategies to develop inclusive leadership skills also include an insatiable curiosity about the world, living in and learning about other cultures, and establishing collaborative relationships. In Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership, we show that to achieve optimal system solutions, it is essential to integrate diversity across the system design cycle both by building a diverse team with diverse world views but also by engaging with diverse stakeholders and building the system for a diverse user set. In some cases this can save lives (e.g. seat belt design, heart attack treatment, protective vests).  We also analyze the engineering pipeline using the design – measure – analyze – improve – control (DMAIC) methodology to develop a set of recommendations that include increasing transparency of what’s going on in the pipeline and establishing a standard for behaviors in the pipeline. When it comes to gender equity, one obstacle includes instances where men are successfully able to take credit for womens’ work or otherwise devalue womens’ contributions and they are able to do so due to their gender. Another obstacle to gender equity is a gender bias when it comes to technical expertise, whereby men are considered naturally technical and women are considered naturally social. The bottom line is all genders want to be recognized by their peers and leadership for their technical expertise and innovation, and they appreciate full recognition for a job well done.

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Figure 2. Strategies for Developing Inclusive Leadership (credit: Alice F. Squires)

Trend #3: Broadening Leadership Facets: Systems thinking, Utilitarianism, Ethics

Systems thinking, utilitarianism, and ethics are key to effective systems leadership (see Figure 3). Systems leadership requires developing non-linear (abstract) thinking, systems thinking (critical thinking guided by systems theory), and a paradoxical mindset (holding two conflicting ideas in harmony) approaches along with a diverse worldview and a human focus. A systems leadership approach (see Figure 4) can be applied to any system. In Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership, we provide systems thinking oriented checklists for the needs of higher education stakeholders including students, faculty and staff, institutions, and employers, for addressing tough decisions such as the ones made during the pandemic and for re-imaging higher education. We also apply the 3R model – do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way - to demonstrate how ethical systems engineering leadership increases the likelihood of realizing successful systems, and confirming ethics as a valuable skill for leaders. And we show how a focus on utilitarianism can help systems engineering leaders address complexity and in some ways simplify decision-making. As shown in Figure 3, a human focus is one of the five effective strategies for the systems leader; and experience has shown that teams composed of both women and men, where psychological safety and communication equity are present, produce higher quality products and services.

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Figure 3. Strategies for Developing Systems Leadership (credit: Alice F. Squires)

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Figure 4. Roadmap for Systems Leaders (credit: Alice F. Squires)

Trend #4: Emerging Technological Trends: Systems Resilience, Digital Engineering, and More

Sustainability leadership (see Figure 5) has gained focus in this increasingly complex and transforming world. A sustainable systems mindset is key for developing sustainability leadership along with having a global purpose and worldview, engaging in sustainable practices, and making decisions as if we will live forever – for preserving the future of people and the planet. Technological trends include advances in the digital transformation and cybersecurity, Industry 4.0 with its ubiquitous 3-D printers, artificial intelligence and machine learning, remote technology and hyper-automation, and more. Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership: Practical Research from Women Leaders covers both building systems resilience into the design of the system using social-ecological systems as the example, and developing and sustaining a value-driven enterprise strategy based on digital engineering. According to the SE Vision 2035, emerging global trends include:

  • Environmental sustainability as a global priority 
  • Increasing global interdependence in an increasingly interconnected world 
  • Digital transformation that impacts how we work, and what we produce 
  • Global change that is driven by :   
    1. Industry 4.0 (cyber-physical systems)
    2. Society 5.0 (socio-cyber-physical systems)
  •  System complexity is increasing on global level
  • Smart elements are increasing in systems; and smart systems are increasing in systems of systems (SOS)

Women are an essential part of emerging technologies and innovation and without women we lose more than 50% of our team creativity, ideas, and progress due to not only losing the technical expertise and creativity women bring to the table but also due to the idea that cognitive diversity underlies a team’s ability to achieve high performance in any area.

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Figure 5. Strategies for Developing Sustainability Leadership (credit: Alice F. Squires)

Change requires the collaboration of women and men. To change the current system, both men and women have to feel like they are part of the conversation. And the conversation has to support both communication equity and psychological safety – for any gender. At the international session referred to at the start of this article, more people entered the room after the initial announcement, both men and women.  Towards the end of the session another announcement was made that participants were composed of about half and half, women and men. One goal of the session was to have broad representation in the audience and gender representation was important for the message. Successful collaboration starts with an open welcoming environment. This allows diverse teams to thrive and together advance technology and achieve innovations in support of a better world.

Visit Springer Nature's SDG5 Gender Equality Hub

About the Authors

Alice Squires © Springer Nature
Alice F. Squires, PhD, has served as author, editor, manager, Professor, and systems engineer with 40 years of combined experience in industry and academia. She is the Founder of the INCOSE’s Empowering Women Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) Initiative and is an INCOSE Expert Systems Engineering Practitioner with Acquisition (ESEP-ACQ). She is co-editor and co-author of the 2019 INCOSE Insight Diversity in Systems Engineering themed edition, the 2022 INCOSE published Letters To My Younger Self: How Systems Engineering Changed My Life ebook, and the 2022 Springer Emerging Trends in Systems Engineering Leadership: Practical Research from Women Leaders book, written by 26 women from around the world.


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