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Being an ally can be as simple as speaking up in a meeting — for someone else.

Kam Dhadwar, managing director with CIBC Capital Markets, said he’s been in meetings where someone deliberately talked over their female colleague while she was trying to make a point, in an effort to silence her dissenting view.

When that happens, “you say, ‘Great, thank you. Can I hear that other opinion as well?’ And sometimes the [female colleague’s] opinion has been so insightful that it’s changed the outcome of that meeting,” Dhadwar said.

Melissa Carruthers, partner, life and health insurance strategy with Deloitte, said allyship can involve not just providing opportunities for softer-spoken colleagues to share their views, but also “proactively asking them to share, [and] having the self-awareness to take note if you’re not hearing from someone.”

Carruthers and Dhadwar were among the speakers at CFA Society Toronto’s women in finance conference held Thursday.

A great ally “creates context for things to be seen,” said panellist Marc-André Lewis, executive vice-president and chief investment officer of CI Global Asset Management. “What you want, in order to spark somebody’s career growth, is to create opportunities for contribution — and opportunities for that contribution to be seen and appreciated.”

Dhadwar said he does just this for people on his team who’ve earned a promotion.

“I will go and speak to every single person that I need to, to make sure they understand what this individual’s done,” he said. “I will also make sure [the team member] has opportunities to get in front of people and explain what they’ve done. And that goes a long way to building credibility.”

Dhadwar said this type of support is, unfortunately, still required to eliminate barriers for qualified candidates from underrepresented groups.

“There is still resistance in some instances; it is still this boys club out there,” he said. “And the only way you break that is by having more people from different backgrounds coming up through the ranks.”

Lesley Marks, chief investment officer of equities with Mackenzie Investments and the keynote speaker at the CFA Society Toronto event, said organizations should move to an overall culture of allyship in part because there are risks when only a few leaders decide to be allies.

For example, an employee could be in trouble if their ally falls out of favour in the organization or leaves. In such situations, Marks said, “you may not have that credibility with the new leader who comes in, and all of a sudden your [association with the ally] can become like a ball and chain — anchoring you down instead of raising you up.”

She, along with the other speakers, also encouraged investment professionals to seek out more than one mentor or ally to mitigate this type of risk, as well as to learn from a well-rounded group.

For people who want to become allies in their organizations, listening and humility can be great first steps, said panellist Joanna Simon, national head of markets with UBS Wealth Management Canada.

She said a male executive told her he wanted to be an ally, but admitted he wasn’t sure how. He asked for her help, saying, “If I do something that is not in the best interest of allyship, could you let me know?”

“I so appreciated the openness,” she said, adding that allyship can happen at any level of an organization. “In any position, we can help create an environment that is not just inclusive in name, but truly inclusive in nature.”