Why #metoo is more than just a slogan for advisor

Rising star of the industry opens up about being sexually harassed at a conference 20 years ago

Why #metoo is more than just a slogan for advisor

For Millicent Hicks, the #metoo movement is more than just an empowering slogan.

A rising star in the industry and a happily married mom of two boys, the award-winning ScotiaMcLeod advisor is a success story whichever way you look at it.

But when she was sexually harassed at a conference 20 years ago, she found there was nowhere to turn for help. Her story echoes many of those told in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and further proof, if any were needed, that such behaviour has affected people from all walks of life.

Hicks said: “I was taken advantage of by someone who was a trusted advisor when I was really young in the industry at a conference. It’s very real. It’s everywhere. It’s definitely #metoo.”

Hicks said she had not encountered any inappropriate behaviour at her current Newfoundland-based employer, a division of Scotia Capital Inc., which she describes as very professional and where she has forged such an excellent reputation that she was crowned Young Gun of the Year at the 2017 Wealth Professional Awards in Toronto last June.

She says her experience as a 19-year-old at the hands of someone her family trusted was “wrong on so many levels” and she still regrets not taking the perpetrator to task.

“It was shocking,” she said, adding: “I was so young and didn’t have a support system behind me to know how to handle it.”

A complaint to the offender’s company fell on deaf ears and Hicks admits that she also didn’t the response she wanted from close family and friends.

She said: “I remember the CEO of the company; we did a joint call with the three of us and I just remember thinking, I’m telling the truth here and why does he even have a voice. I was too young and naïve to know that the firm just didn’t want any publicity about it or negative news, and I just wish that I had done it differently because you live and work in the same community.

“All the young females in my life I feel like I just want to make sure they understand. I think that all of this movement, the #metoo, is very empowering just to tell women that they don’t have to be vulnerable to get ahead or for any reason.

“Now I think among young people there is more awareness that this is not ok and it’s not your fault. I just didn’t know. I was just so naïve and thought, I am sure this is inappropriate but where do I go? Who do I tell? What do I say? And even when I did tell my parents and friends I knew who still worked with him, it wasn’t the best reaction that I needed.”

Hicks admitted her body language is very closed at conferences these days, although she also joked that having since got married and had children she is now a middle-aged housewife and not the “young, blonde, beautiful bombshell”.

It’s clear, though, that helping young women gain the confidence to find their place in life is important to the advisor, who says she feels blessed to have the career and life she does. Every summer she sponsors a golf tournament with Go Girls, a mentoring programme organised by Big Brothers Big Sisters, something that is clearly close to her heart.

She said the biggest challenge when she set out in the industry was not her relative youth but the fact she was female and said there were occasions when she had to fight to be heard to "earn a seat at the table". It’s something, Hicks succinctly says, women have to think about but men don’t.

Professionally, a client-first approach has been instrumental in her success, something she addressed in last year's Wealth Professional victory speech, which had been scribbled down on a Wahlburger knapkin earlier that day in the hope she might win.

She said: “My getting ahead [in this industry] has been a result of building really solid relationships with people that refer me business. I am very thankful and grateful for those relationships so I let them know that all the time and take care of their clients. In a lot of cases it's mutual clients and they get that feedback, and get more confident to refer me more business.”

This year’s Oscars-style Wealth Professional Awards takes place on May 31 at the Liberty Grand, Toronto. The deadline for nominations is February 23 (end of play Friday) and the awards cover the full spectrum of the industry. To nominate yourself or someone else you think is deserving of recognition, simply log on to www.wpawards.ca and follow the links.