After reading an article lauding the condo titans in Toronto (all men, unsurprisingly), Real Estate Developer Taya Cook was inspired to act. Cook joined forces with Sherry Larjani and got to work assembling a team of strong, smart women in the industry. The result is Reina, the country’s first all-female development team. The entire leadership team is female, from the developers and construction management to the engineers.

“Women have been prominent in all sorts of roles and they are doing fantastic work in this industry, but our accomplishments aren’t well-recognized,” says Cook. “We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, and our built environment should reflect that. It’s no longer just the condo kings who are impacting our city.” Reina is aimed at raising the profile of women in the industry and encouraging others to join real estate development as well. 

We chatted with Cook about it this week. 

SDTC: When did you realize you wanted to get into real estate development?

TC: It never crossed my mind. I was doing a Bachelors of Science at the University of Toronto when I heard about a job opportunity at Urban Capital through a friend. Mark and David had started the company a few years prior and were looking for help. I truly fell into it. Joining what was a small company has led me to be in a position with experience that is quite unique for a female of my age. This is one of the reasons that our Reina project is so personal to me: I could have easily overlooked the industry that I’ve come to love, but I hope to stand with other women in development to raise visibility and offer insight for those who may be considering it.

What challenges have you faced in your industry, and how did you overcome them?

Proportionately, there is a significant lack of females in senior leadership positions in real estate development. If you don’t see others similar to you, it can be hard to picture (even subconsciously) how you would fit in. A turning point for me was that in 10+ years I never sat at the head of the table in our boardroom. I didn’t think anything of it, until I saw a male who was younger and less experienced than me taking that position without any thought. It was so shocking to see, as I had just assumed it wasn’t my place without realizing the weight of that assumption. It’s such a minor (and almost embarrassing) thing to admit, but I think we as females hold ourselves back in varying ways and my way just happened to be in my chosen position at a table. That was a clear indication to me that I needed to step up and be more confident about the value I add.

What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to condo developments?

What I call the Christmas Tree Effect bothers me every December. Driving around and looking at buildings where all the Christmas trees line up in the exact same position up the building. It’s next to impossible to avoid in a high-rise tower, but on a personal (and sometimes unpractical) level, I definitely have a preference for unique design.

Taya Cook & Sherry Larjani

What would you like to see incorporated more into condo design?

More family-friendly design. Our Reina project is looking at ways to make both the units and amenities more family-friendly. Gyms that overlook a kids’ playroom, stroller parking for everybody as a general building feature, and extra storage. These are all ideas that we plan to bring to the table.

In your experience, what does an all-female perspective bring to condo development?

Everyone who is on our development team was selected because they are a proven leader in their field. While that is the case, we don’t assume we know everything. Our main focus has been to make this a very collaborative process and engage people from the outset. On July 10, we’re hosting a design consultation event to learn about people’s experiences in condo living—as mothers, as families, as singles. We’re looking forward to hearing people’s pain points and their wish list items. We also have a questionnaire on our website that anyone can fill out; it has given us a lot of great insights so far. We’re really taking the time to listen to the public, our friends and family, and our consultant team to see how we can do things better at Reina.

What do you love most about what you do?

The journey to completing a building is often 5+ years from start to finish, and every project comes with its own hurdles. But at the end of the day we are in the business of creating homes. Having homeowners invite me over for a glass of wine at their place and proudly show me their new home is the absolute best reward. It doesn’t get much better than that.