Tricia Tolivar has been CFO of General Nutrition Centers (GNC) for five years, where she leads finance for more than 16,000 employees in more than 50 countries. As a member of the c-suite, and as an executive in various industries for more than 30 years, Tolivar has made diversity and inclusion a priority.
"To create that inclusiveness at GNC, I work closely with our CEO and head of HR to make sure we’re setting standards and policies that embrace and encourage diversity," she told CFO Dive Thursday. "On my team alone, about 43% of my direct reports are female."
Tolivar said she tries to be very open during the recruiting process to evaluate diversity, not just in gender, but in thought. A well-rounded team, with differences of opinion and experience, she said, provide "the best outcome possible."
The best outcome
"If I have a diverse team, which I feel like I do, we attract and foster top talent," she said. Tolivar also tries to make her team feel personally connected; she often talks about her family with her colleagues, because when they spend as much time in the office as they do at home, she wants to foster personal connections and make people feel welcome.
Fresh out of college, Tolivar got her start at Ernst & Young, which she found to be "surprisingly diverse." She eventually became the Americas Advisory Director of Finance at EY, where she led finance, accounting and operations of a $3 billion client service organization in North and South America.
"When I started working over 30 years ago, there were not many female partners in the practice," she recalls. "But the firm was very focused on changing that."
After about six years, she left EY for the very male-dominated AutoZone, where she went on to hold various VP positions at AutoZone, Inc., including Supply Chain Replenishment, General Manager of Commercial, Controller and Strategic Planning and Analysis.
Reflecting on her time at AutoZone, Tolivar says she probably tried too hard to compensate for what she thought were challenges; in the year she had her first child, AutoZone acquired three companies.
Tolivar was living in Tennessee with no local family. When she’d have to fly to business trips, she would first fly to Florida, drop her daughter off with her mother, and then fly out.
"I wanted to advance my career, but often found myself explaining or rationalizing why i had to do these things, which probably wasn't necessary," she said. "Don’t feel like you have to explain yourself. Producing very quality work speaks for itself."
When she thinks of creating more opportunities for women in finance, Tolivar thinks back to early in her career, when she just didn’t want to be written off. Now, she guides her team to make sure they don’t make judgments about individual staff members.
"In my career, I’ve been quick to say that just because someone’s pregnant doesn’t mean they’re not committed," she said. "I want to continue having open and honest conversations about how we can make things better."
Tolivar also recognizes the benefit of having female leadership at a company to look up to and turn to as a resource. She names one VP at EY, who was the only female senior partner at the Atlanta office when she was being recruited.
"It was very important to me to find somewhere supportive of women," Tolivar said, noting that the partner also counseled her when she was changing career paths to work at AutoZone.
CFOs, specifically, can do a great deal to ensure a better gender balance at their workplace, Tolivar believes. "Be an advocate for candidates with diverse backgrounds," she advises. "Getting more women in the door is only the beginning. Promote a positive and strong environment that keeps women around, and hold people accountable from a business perspective."