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ATLANTA-The third-annual Global Diversity Summit in Commercial Real Estate is scheduled for July 21-23 at the Georgia World Congress Center. Last year, more than 500 people attended the conference.

The theme of this year’s summit is “Reinventing Real Estate-Faces and Places,” bringing together minority commercial real estate professionals with diverse backgrounds to exchange knowledge and discuss future challenges facing the industry. The itinerary includes a panel discussion on diversity to be led by human resources executives with Simon Property Group Inc.

Trenna Ross, co-chair of the GDS and a broker with Atlanta-based Red Rock Global LLC, says she has set a goal to grow this year’s summit exponentially by increasing individual registrations, particularly among professionals with mainstream commercial real estate firms. Programs such as GDS and the Real Estate Associate Program (REAP) have helped raise diversity awareness within the industry, Ross tells GlobeSt.com. Progress is being made, she says, although it appears small because commercial real estate has lacked diversity for so long.

“Though many companies have realized the value of inclusion and having a diverse work force is good for business, particularly since we’re more of aglobal society, there are many companies that are slow to transitionfrom the ‘good ole boy’ network mentality,” Ross says. “Being someone who wanted to get into the industry 15 to 20 years ago, but didn’t have any connections, it’s refreshing to see an influx of young professionals coming into the industry as their first career choice.”

Lynn Smith, founder of the Global Diversity Summit and a broker with Cushman & Wakefield in Atlanta, says she is pleased with the event’s growth and has learned that experience sharing is key to promoting diversity within the industry. “As minorities, we need to make sure that our voice is united and events like this summit serve as a bonding element in that process,” Smith says.

In April, GlobeSt.com interviewed Ron Whitley, chief diversity officer of New York City-based C&W for the last two years. Whitley emphasizes the fact that commercial real estate is a relationship-driven industry, though extra effort is needed to reach out beyond one’s own demographic.

“We as people tend to be comfortable with people who are similar to us, and that clearly ties into this business,” Whitley said. “When business is done outside your respective office, whether it’s on the golf course or private club, you’re with people who look like you. That has to change.”

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