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The DEI Digest with Samantha Lake and Bruce Orr, ProNovos


Welcome to ‘The DEI Digest’ with Romey Oulton, a Q&A focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment.

This Q&A series is an opportunity for our North American Consultant Romey Oulton to discuss Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment with lead changemakers in the space who are championing DEI.  Each week we will ask burning questions, providing a platform to share career advice, discuss innovative strategies to overcome challenges, and how to lead by example. 

This week we have been in touch with Samantha Lake, COO and Bruce Orr, CEO at ProNovos.

ProNovos stands as a premier cloud-based construction financial analytics solution. Leveraging existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, we streamline complex data into user-friendly workflows, accompanied by easy-to-read charts and graphs. This transformation enables contractors to gain a deeper understanding of their finances while safeguarding their profits. Whether through executive dashboards, revenue projections, or project cash flow forecasting, ProNovos empowers users to make informed decisions and helps leaders fortify and expand their construction businesses.

How/why did you first find yourself leaning into the construction and contech space?

Bruce: I ended up in the contech space through some pretty interesting experiences. I was living and working in Singapore on this cool project where we were constructing new buildings. The company I was with wanted to combat the spread of H1N1, so they decided to use sensors to detect body temperature and speech, even before IoT was a big thing.

It was a mind-blowing experience, and we needed real-time data pipelines to analyze the information and alert people about any unusual detections. That’s when I realized how much untapped potential there was in the construction industry data.

Around that time, I was thinking about coming back to the States and starting my own business. So, I looked into industries that took a hard hit during the recession, and construction stood out. As I dug deeper, I noticed a common issue – construction companies lacked systems that could give them early warnings or indicators of problems.

Seeing this gap got me excited. I knew I could make a difference by bringing my passion for contech and my entrepreneurial spirit together. By developing innovative solutions, I could help construction companies handle tough times more efficiently.

So, thanks to my time in Singapore and the insights I gained, I jumped into the contech world with a mission to change things for the better. And that’s how it all started!

Samantha: Over the course of my professional journey, my inclination towards the construction and contech space stemmed from a seamless union of my background and expertise. I spent four years as the Vice President of Communications & IT at the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), I had the privilege to delve deeply into the intricacies of the construction industry and its financial management aspects.

Before my tenure at CFMA, I honed my skills at interlinkONE, a SaaS company specializing in Order Management Solutions, Fulfillment, and Warehousing. My role there allowed me to gain invaluable insights into cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions relevant to the logistics and operations domain.

Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself to join ProNovos, a company at the forefront of construction technology, it felt like a natural progression and a serendipitous confluence of my past and present experiences. The prospect of contributing my expertise in communications, IT, and operations to the dynamic landscape of ProNovos was an exciting proposition, and I eagerly embraced the chance to be part of this pioneering venture.


What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? What value does it bring to you and your team?

Bruce: As a black man, Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI+) hold tremendous significance to me, as it fosters an environment of empowerment, growth, and unity. To me, DEI+ goes beyond mere buzzwords; it represents an unwavering commitment to providing equal opportunities for individuals who have historically been marginalized or overlooked. It is about recognizing and celebrating the unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that each team member brings to the table.

The value that DEI+ brings to our team is immeasurable. It instills a sense of unity and shared purpose, creating a harmonious work atmosphere where mutual understanding and cooperation flourish. When team members feel seen and heard, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their work.

These are not just words, but guiding principles that fuel the success and growth of our team. They create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute fully, leading to better outcomes, improved decision-making, and a more compassionate and empathetic workplace. Embracing DEI+ is not only the right thing to do; it is essential for building a better, more inclusive future for all.

Samantha: To me, diversity, equity, and inclusion encompass fundamental principles of critical thinking and education which challenge established societal norms perpetuated by those in positions of authority to maintain their power dynamics. It emphasizes the acknowledgment of our shared humanity, valuing every individual without favoring one over the other. By dismantling divisive constructs that history has shown to be tools of control, we pave the way for a united and empowered population.

The significance of these principles extends to the value they bring both to me personally and to my team. Embracing diversity allows us to foster an environment where mutual support and empowerment thrive. Each team member’s unique perspectives and backgrounds become assets, contributing to a stronger and more dynamic collective. By building each other up, we create a collaborative space where everyone’s contributions are recognized and celebrated.

Beyond the enriching growth it offers us as individuals, diversity also serves as a powerful catalyst for innovation and problem-solving from a professional standpoint. Different experiences and viewpoints fuel creativity and enable us to approach challenges from a multitude of angles, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions. The profound beauty of recognizing and celebrating our diverse attributes empowers us to cultivate a work environment where everyone thrives, and together, we create a stronger, more resilient team.


Have you encountered any specific barriers or biases while seeking funding, hiring or building partnerships? How do you navigate these challenges and what advice would you give to other founders facing similar obstacles?

Bruce: It’s unfortunate that in today’s society, systemic barriers and biases still persist and can impact the journey of minority founders seeking funding and building partnerships. While I don’t want to solely attribute my experiences to my race, it’s essential to acknowledge that these issues are prevalent and can significantly impact opportunities for minority entrepreneurs.

In seeking funding, I have faced challenges accessing capital due to limited networks and connections with potential investors. It can be disheartening to witness unconscious biases at play, where investors may favor businesses led by individuals who share similar backgrounds or experiences. This can create a cycle of limited representation and perpetuate disparities in the startup ecosystem.

For other underrepresented founders, my advice is, DON’T GIVE UP!  Build a support network,  find allies and advocates, lead by example, be resilient and lastly, believe in your vision.

Samantha: As a woman who has worked in male-dominated industries, I haven’t personally encountered specific barriers or biases while seeking funding, hiring, or building partnerships. However, I can provide insights from the perspective of a “young female” professional who has navigated such challenges in the past.

In male-dominated industries, perceptions of youthfulness and gender can sometimes create barriers that demand proactive strategies to overcome. Being perceived as younger than my actual age has its advantages, but it also requires me to assert my credibility more assertively. I’ve found that demonstrating preparedness, maintaining thorough documentation, and ensuring my voice is heard are effective ways to gain respect and be taken seriously.

Nevertheless, it can be disheartening to face situations where underperforming colleagues are allowed to retain positions of power while additional responsibilities are disproportionately allocated to female team members. To address such imbalances, I’ve learned the importance of setting boundaries and saying no when faced with undue delegation of work. Pushing back against unfair expectations, even when societal norms encourage compliance, is essential in promoting equitable treatment in the workplace.

For other females facing similar obstacles, I would offer the following advice:

Embrace your voice: Cultivate the confidence to speak up and share your ideas, insights, and expertise. Your contributions are valuable, and asserting yourself helps to challenge biases and stereotypes.

Advocate for yourself: Ensure that your accomplishments and capabilities are acknowledged and recognized. Don’t shy away from promoting your achievements and seeking the opportunities you deserve.

Seek support and allies: Build a network of mentors, allies, and colleagues who can provide guidance and support. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can help you navigate challenges and foster a sense of camaraderie.

Set boundaries: While being a team player is commendable, it’s essential to recognize when your workload is becoming unfair and unbalanced. Learn to say no when necessary, and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.

Challenge gender stereotypes: Break free from societal expectations and demonstrate that leadership, innovation, and success know no gender boundaries. Be a role model for others and advocate for a more inclusive and equitable workplace.


In your opinion, what are some of the main shortcomings or challenges that exist in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the construction space? How do you believe these challenges can be addressed effectively?

Samantha: One of the prominent challenges in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the construction space, as well as in American society as a whole, lies in the politicization of this critical issue. By transforming it into a political matter, it becomes challenging to engage in civil discourse, especially in industries like construction, which are predominantly white male-dominated. Certain politicians capitalize on this polarization, often exploiting the fears and concerns of different groups, thereby impeding progress toward a more inclusive society.

To effectively address these challenges, it is imperative to foster open and honest dialogue around DEI topics. Embracing the concept of “rules of engagement,” as exemplified by CFMA’s DEI Committee, which are:

Assume Positive Intent: Start every conversation by assuming that others have positive intentions. This allows you to tune into your emotions and set aside your own assumptions or biases.

Engage in Dialogue — Not Debate: When we debate, we assume that there is a “right” answer, and we tend to focus on “winning.” The goal in a debate is to help the other person see our point of view. Instead, when we focus on building dialogue, the goal shifts to understanding the other person’s point of view.

Hold Yourself & Others Accountable for Demonstrating Cultural Humility: Cultural competence is the ability to understand other cultures and points of view. Cultural humility embraces the lifelong journey and commitment required to develop that cultural competence. We all start our journey in different places and with different experiences and perspectives.

Be Open, Transparent & Willing to Admit Mistakes: Recognize that we will have missteps and may say the wrong things. As Brené Brown states, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” Commit to being vulnerable — show up and lean into the tough conversations.

Embrace the Power of Humble Listening: C.S. Lewis wrote that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” When we apply humble listening, we put aside our own agenda to show respect, empathy, and trust, creating psychological safety for challenging conversations.

Create Trusting & Safe Spaces — Where a Little Bit of Discomfort Is Okay: Psychological safety creates freedom to speak up with ideas, questions, or concerns and creates trust that you won’t be punished or ridiculed for sharing your thoughts. Create safety to have crucial conversations, recognizing that the conversations that matter often feel uncomfortable.

Commit to Having Conversations That Matter by Speaking Up to Bridge Divides: During a time when our country feels divided, it’s tempting to avoid the hard topics. We don’t want to damage relationships, say the wrong things, or offend someone. Instead, engage to create understanding and new perspectives. Be an ally by speaking up when you see bias or discrimination.

Suspend Your Right to be Offended: Philosopher and author Mokokoma Mokhonoana writes, “Freedom of speech gives us the right to offend others, whereas freedom of thought gives them the choice as to whether or not to be offended.” In every conversation, you have the freedom to choose how to respond. You cannot control someone else. You can only control your response — your thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Look for an Opportunity to be Second: Shift your goal from a desire to win a debate to a desire to understand and learn. Put aside your need to be “right” so you can focus on actively listening, uplifting others, amplifying voices, and supporting your team.

Your Voice Is Important — Ensure it Is Heard: Speak up. Your perspectives and experiences give you a unique view on the world. Use your voice to fully engage and create meaningful change.

By promoting open dialogue, empathetic listening, and a commitment to fostering an inclusive environment, the construction industry can overcome the challenges associated with promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Embracing the principles of DEI facilitates progress toward a more equitable and diverse workforce, laying the foundation for a thriving and dynamic industry.


How do you approach incorporating diversity and inclusion within ProNovos’ culture and team? What strategies or initiatives have you implemented to create an inclusive environment for your employees and stakeholders?

At ProNovos, fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a priority as we transition from a start-up to a growth-oriented company. As leaders, Bruce and I firmly believe that DEI initiatives start with strong leadership, and we are deeply committed to incorporating these values into our organizational fabric. Drawing on our experiences—where I spearheaded DEI initiatives for CFMA and Bruce served as the inaugural Chair of the DEI Committee—we recognize the transformative impact that diversity can have on organizational success.

In line with our growth trajectory, we are mindful of adopting a deliberate approach to hiring that ensures a diverse and talented workforce. Extensive research supports the positive correlation between diverse teams and enhanced business outcomes, making diversity a strategic imperative for ProNovos.

Overcoming the challenge of creating an inclusive environment becomes even more pronounced given our company’s dispersed workforce, spread across various locations throughout the United States. However, Bruce leads with openness and transparency, fostering regular communication with all employees. A standing team meeting every Monday facilitates team bonding and fosters a collaborative spirit, nurturing an inclusive atmosphere.

To further strengthen team cohesion, we organize bi-weekly Friday happy hour meetings that go beyond project retrospectives, instead placing emphasis on team bonding and camaraderie. These gatherings facilitate interaction and enable employees, regardless of geographical distances, to get to know one another better.

As we evolve, our DEI efforts will continue to evolve in parallel, underpinned by a commitment to cultivating a culture where all employees feel valued, respected, and included. We will actively seek out opportunities to celebrate our team’s diverse perspectives and backgrounds, recognizing that it is through embracing these differences that we unlock innovation and creativity.


Why is it that the construction industry is deemed ‘slow’ or ‘resistant’ to adopting technology? Is this justified? If so, what are some of the barriers you’re seeing?

The construction industry’s perceived slowness in adopting technology can, in part, be attributed to a generational divide within construction companies. A significant number of leadership positions are still occupied by baby boomers, who did not have the advantage of growing up with technology as an integral part of their lives. With retirement on the horizon, these leaders may prefer maintaining the status quo to avoid the potential challenges that come with implementing and learning new technologies. This conservative mindset can create resistance to change and hinder the industry’s technological progress.

On the other hand, the emerging generation of leaders, predominantly millennials, are eager to revolutionize the industry by incorporating technological solutions that promise increased efficiency and productivity. This creates a power struggle between those keen on embracing innovation and those more inclined to preserve traditional practices.

One of the significant barriers to technology adoption lies in the fear of the unknown, especially for those who do not possess a high level of technical acumen. As technology becomes increasingly intertwined with various aspects of construction operations, the prospect of disruption can be daunting, leading to a cautious approach to new implementations.

Additionally, the complex and diverse nature of construction projects may pose challenges in finding technology solutions that seamlessly integrate into existing processes and adapt to the unique requirements of each project. This lack of integration can create hesitation among decision-makers, who may prefer to play it safe rather than tackle potential technological issues.

Time constraints and competing priorities also contribute to the resistance observed in some construction companies. With busy schedules and pressing project demands, leaders may find it challenging to allocate the necessary time and resources for implementing and mastering new technologies.

To address these barriers, a proactive approach to fostering a tech-forward culture and providing training and support for leadership and employees is crucial. Bridging the generational gap through knowledge-sharing and encouraging open dialogue can promote a better understanding of the benefits technology brings to the industry. Furthermore, investing in user-friendly and integrated technology solutions tailored to the specific needs of construction companies can help alleviate concerns related to disruption.


ProNovos Growth plans: 1 year 3 years 5 years.

ProNovos’ growth plans encompass a strategic vision aimed at enhancing our technology and democratizing data accessibility. Our foremost objective is to break down the barriers of data gatekeeping, ensuring that valuable insights are accessible to all stakeholders.

Over the course of the next year, our focus lies on continuous technological improvement, driven by a dedication to meeting our client’s evolving needs and expectations. We aim to refine our solutions, making them more intuitive, robust, and user-friendly, thus empowering construction companies to harness the full potential of their data.

Looking ahead to the next three years, ProNovos envisions becoming the industry standard for data analytics in the construction sector. As construction companies increasingly recognize the importance of data-driven decision-making, our comprehensive technology will be at the forefront of enabling them to gain comprehensive insights into their projects. By providing project managers with a clear understanding of the financial aspects of their endeavors, our solution will play a pivotal role in safeguarding profits and optimizing project outcomes.

In five years’ time, ProNovos aspires to cement its position as the leading authority in data-driven decision-making for the construction industry. Our technology will be the go-to platform for construction companies seeking to harness the full potential of their data. Through our innovative approach, we will enable our clients to achieve operational excellence, foster efficiency, and bolster financial stability, thus enhancing the overall competitiveness of their company.


What is your guilty pleasure? Favorite song?

Bruce: Setting aside about 45 minutes each night, eat ice cream and watch something funny on a streaming service.

Samantha: I am a huge Ed Sheeran fan, so any of his music.

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