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Shattered ceilings: How 7 leaders in the GTA real estate industry got where they are


So say the strong, confident women who are leading the way in the GTA’s real estate and development industry ... American-born Maignan graduated from New York’s Cornell University with a degree in architecture 20 years ago. She worked in Malaysia ...


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This copy is for your personal non-commercial use onlyTo order presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.comLifeHomesShattered ceilings: How 7 leaders in the GTA real estate industry got where they areOn International Women’s Day, leaders share their advice after lessons learned in what was once a man’s world.From left, Heather Lloyd: vice-president, sales and marketing, Graywood Developments; Taya Cook, director of development, Urban Capital; Katie Fong, director asset management, Slate Asset Management; Stephanie Maignan, senior design associate and architect, B+H Architects; Cara Hirsch: director of sales and marketing, Milborne Group; Clara Romero, senior urban designer, Perkins + Will; Salima Rawji: vice-president, Create TO.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)By Carola VyhnakSpecial to the StarThu., March 8, 2018This is a man’s world … no moreSo say the strong, confident women who are leading the way in the GTA’s real estate and development industryWhile the faces in the field may not yet reflect gender parity, women are powering through the testosterone-lined ceiling in growing numbersIn celebration of International Women’s Day, some of those high achievers share their thoughts and experiences.Heather Lloyd, 39, vice-president, sales and marketing, Graywood Developments Heather Lloyd, vice-president sales and marketing, Graywood Developments.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)Heather Lloyd didn’t have to look far for inspiration and encouragement as she launched her career in her early 20’sSurrounded by strong women in family and business, she had “good people to mentor me along the way.”Article Continued BelowLloyd’s 17 years in real estate have been a positive experience.“I never really felt like it was a disadvantage being a womanI always felt like a person at the table.”With a degree in social studies, she started work in a presentation centre then did research into the housing market before joining The Daniels Corporation’s marketing departmentShe moved to Graywood Developments last summer.“You have to go after things,” she advises women“Be an advocate for yourself and what you believe in, whether it’s a job you want, or a position you think you’re ready for, or the pay you deserve.”Taya Cook, 37, director of development, Urban CapitalTaya Cook, director of development, Urban Capital.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)It was a summer job 15 years ago that took psychology graduate Taya Cook into real estate where she “instantly fell in love.”Now, she plays a lead role in stick-handling condominium projects, from pre-construction to completion, for one of the city’s top developers.“At the end of the day you’re delivering houses to people, which is very rewarding,” says Cook, who was something of a pioneer earlier in her career.“It was sadI could go for months being the only female at the table,” she says of meetings with professionals involved in real estateThese days, there might be two or three — a sign of slow progress.Cook, who lists integrity, organizational skills and fairness as factors behind her success, wants women to know “there’s a place for them” in the industry“Listen, there are some fantastic opportunities and jobs that could use a female perspective.”Katie Fong, 27, director, asset management, Slate Asset Management Katie Fong, director asset management, Slate Asset Management.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)Still in her 20’s, Katie Fong manages a portfolio of properties for her firmShe also holds a degree in business administration from Ivey Business School.“A lot still happens on the golf course, and I get to take part in thatIt’s a great networking opportunity and I encourage women to participate more in outings like that,” she says of the relationship-building opportunities that can benefit women.Outside of the office, she finds that men sometimes talk “just to be heard.” But Fong prefers to speak up when she can articulate a thoughtful, informed contributionWomen who are quiet or shy shouldn’t be perceived as weak or unqualified, she points out.It takes two to give women a leg up on the corporate ladder, says Fong, who joined Slate in 2013.“It’s absolutely the role of both men and women — with the emphasis on men — to support women and help them accelerate in the industry.”Stephanie Maignan, 42, senior design associate, B+H Architects Stephanie Maignan, senior design associate and architect, B+H Architects.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)For women who want both family and career, the requisite juggling act is still an obstacle, according to architect Stephanie Maignan.“Figuring out how to make it work is the challenge for gender parity at the senior level,” says the mother of a 6- and 9-year-old“Good child care is essential.”American-born Maignan graduated from New York’s Cornell University with a degree in architecture 20 years agoShe worked in Malaysia for 15 years, starting her own architectural firm at age 29, before joining B+H Architects last year.Living in Asia exposed her to a female-centric culture where women entrepreneurs are “very normal,” thanks to nannies and extended families, she says.Commending her current employer for its “healthy” environment and attitude toward parenthood, she encourages working mothers to “hang in there” and not let “mental burdens” take over.“Follow your sense of adventure, try things and take risksHave fun.”Cara Hirsch, 29, director of sales and marketing, Milborne Group Cara Hirsch, director of sales and marketing, Milborne Group  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)With hands on hips and a winning smile, Cara Hirsch is the picture of confidence in her company profileNot surprising for a real estate phenom who conducted tours at her realtor father’s open houses as a 10-year-old, cold-called potential clients as a high school student and managed a restaurant at age 18.“I love it,” Hirsch says of the condo business she’s now in“I’m very passionate about what I do and that translates to where I’ve gotten at Milborne.”Since moving to Toronto from Winnipeg in 2009, she’s sold more than 3,000 units exceeding a total of $1.4 billion.Hirsch, who bought her first condo at age 24, credits hard work, confidence and social skills among the factors behind her success at Milborne Group.“Work hard — that’s the biggest thing,” she advises“If you know you’re good and know what you’re doing, you will do well whether you’re a man or woman.”Clara Romero, 35, senior urban designer, Perkins + Will Clara Romero, senior urban designer, Perkins + Will.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)For Spanish-born-and-educated Clara Romero, moving to Toronto eight years ago brought “a very nice surprise” when she saw how women in business were treated.Cultural differences in her homeland tend to keep women out of power positions, she saysBut in the field of urban design here, there’s a male-female balance and opportunities are “infinite” for anyone who’s smart, eager and passionate, notes Romero, who occupies a top spot at a well-established architecture and design firm.Still, there’s room for improvement, she says“It’s not just about getting women into leadership, it’s how leadership can be changed to be more attractive to women.”Romero, who has a masters degree in urban design from the University of Toronto, worries about the high price tag of reaching the top.“I see how much they’ve given up,” she says, citing the need for a better work-life balance.Salima Rawji, 38, vice-president, development, CreateTO Salima Rawji, vice-president development, CreateTO.  (Vince Talotta / Toronto Star)No woman is an islandThat, in a nutshell, is Salima Rawji’s philosophy behind helping the sisterhood advance in their profession.Rawji, who holds a top job at the city’s new real estate agency, CreateTO, is grateful for the boost she got several years ago from groups with Urban Land Institute Toronto and CivicAction’s DiverseCity Fellows program.Exposure to accomplished colleagues from both genders provided inspiration, role models, mentorship and growth opportunities, says Rawji, who moved here from Vancouver 16 years ago.“Having strong women leaders is paramount but it cannot be women by themselves,” she says, urging senior business people to reach out to younger women and say, “this is something you can do, too.” A passionate advocate for inclusivity, she relishes “playing the role of connector” in her industry.“It’s male-dominated, there’s no doubt about that,” notes the community volunteer who has felt gender bias in subtle forms“But I do feel it’s changing.”Delivered dailyThe Morning Headlines NewsletterSubscribeThe Toronto Star and thestar.com, each property of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited, One Yonge Street, 4th Floor, Toronto, ON, M5E 1E6You can unsubscribe at any timePlease contact us or see our privacy policy for more information.More from the Toronto Star & 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