A group of women is breaking tradition in Toronto with the first all-female real estate development team which is focused on working collaboratively and bringing a fresh approach to the way condominium development has traditionally been conceived.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Taya Cook, director of development at Urban Capital, in partnership with Sherry Larjani, managing partner at Spotlight Developments.
“We’ve curated a team of all females who really are at the top of their game and have really proven themselves over the years in the industry so that’s why they were selected,” said Cook. “The main point of it is that we want the decision makers to be female. The people who are sitting around the table, the lead consultants — engineers, construction managers architects, planners — they are female. Naturally all of us have men who work in the companies that will be involved…by no means is the intention for it to be exclusive. On site we would love to have more female construction workers.”
The residential development is called Reina, which is Spanish for Queen, a nod to the physical location on the Queensway just east of Royal York Boulevard and the all-female development team. It will be a residential condo with about 200 units with some retail at grade.
The idea for the development was born when Cook saw an article on Toronto’s city builders.
“It talked about these are the people who are building the city and when I opened it up there was 20 men in the photos so that was sort of shocking as it laid out the industry visually exactly as I have experienced it all these years,” said Cook.
“For me it was a wake-up call and basically a realization that something has to be done to change this.”
Cook approached one of the principals at Urban Capital who happened to be featured in the article.
The idea is to bring all the people behind the scenes and put them in the front
— Sherry Larjani
“I said this is ridiculous, it’s time for something different to be done and he was in full agreement,” Cook recalled.
As an entrepreneur, Larjani said she could relate to Cook’s reaction to the article and the need to showcase women in the industry.
“As someone who is in the development business and has been trying to grow her business I have seen how there is a lack of female presence in the development industry,” said Larjani. “The idea is to bring all the people behind the scenes and put them in the front and say ‘here are the women that are working on these projects around the city’ and showing people that it is a viable career option.”
The companies partnered to purchase the property and Cook and Larjani were tasked to with putting together an all-female “dream team” to build the project.
“In a lot of projects, I think it’s typical for most developers is you just work with the consultants that you have worked with before so it’s a unique situation to be able to start from scratch and work your way up,” said Cook. “It’s been a mix of reaching out to consultants that we currently work with and asking them who are the females within their companies and asking to meet with them. It was also a lot of LinkedIn and Google searching and going through the websites of a lot of companies that work in Toronto and searching the females who are on the team.”
While all the major decisions will be made by females, the team is focused on taking a collaborative approach and consulting with the general public on what should be included in the development.
“We are having very collaborative meetings and asking everyone to give input in terms of what do you love about living in condominiums, what don’t you like…we’re getting that feedback and taking the time to listen and incorporate that into the drawings,” said Cook, adding she is looking forward to seeing how an all-female team’s perspective and vision will influence the decision-making process.
The team has a questionnaire on its website and is also holding a facilitated design event on July 10 for people to provide feedback.
“We’re guilty of having assumptions as developers,” said Cook. “We have an idea of what’s worked and so we keep on doing it. Every condo has a party room and a gym. The question is if we have 5,000 square feet of amenities, is that the best use or are there things we haven’t thought about?”
“This the start of showing how we are doing things differently because we are inviting everybody to come and talk and collaborate about what they see lacking in the condos and what they want to see,” added Larjani.
Through this initiative, Cook said she is hoping to inspire females who are in the industry and encourage others to join.
“We haven’t really had that much visibility and I think many of us can think of the male developers who work in the city but there are many females who work in this space too so just visually representing that and having the conversation,” said Cook.
For more information and to engage in this all-women lead initiative visit reinacondos.com.