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Welcome to this special edition of the IFAC Changemakers series dedicated to sports, on the occasion of the Olympic Games taking place in Paris in July.

This month we are honored to have Beth Brooke as our distinguished guest. Beth is the former Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at EY (Ernst & Young), currently serving on several boards, including the Board of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and a renowned advocate for diversity and inclusive leadership. With a remarkable career that spans roles in both the private and public sectors, Beth has been named 11 times one of Forbes’ "World’s 100 Most Powerful Women" and has received numerous honors, including the Theodore Roosevelt Award and induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

Beth spoke to Cecile Bonino, Principal at IFAC, about how her passion for sports, particularly basketball, has influenced her professional journey, shaped her leadership philosophy, and supported her commitment to diversity and inclusion.

A woman in a white blazer with gray hair

Cecile Bonino: Beth, you were in the first class of woman to be awarded a basketball scholarship by Purdue University, and you have been inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.  Could you please tell us how and when you started playing basketball?

Beth Brooke: In fact, I grew-up playing all sports. I had a brother four years older than me who loved to just beat me at everything. And so, I loved just playing everything, football, basketball, baseball, softball, etc. My dad, an incredible athlete, would come home every night at 5:30pm and we would play table tennis until late at night… and basketball was just one of those things we did. But when I was 13, my hip fell apart and I was told I would never walk again. Long story short, I eventually did walk again, and I told the doctor that I would be the best darn athlete he'd ever seen.

After spending my entire freshman year in high school on crutches, on my sophomore year --when I got the use of my leg back -- a friend of mine said, “Why don't we try out for the basketball team?”  And it all started as a joke!

But then the first practice -- I remember it was total chaos, I was surrounded by all these people – I caught the ball, and just instinctively shot, because I've grown up playing with my brother for years, and the ball went in “swish”. And it’s in that moment that I got all the confidence in the world to become a basketball player. So I had a late start actually, to answer your question!

Cecile Bonino: Did your athletic discipline and skills contribute to your success in the accountancy education journey? And how did your passion for sports equip you with the skills and mindset necessary to navigate your diverse and impactful career?

Beth Brooke: This is such a good question, because any athlete will tell you that what they learned playing sport, especially as a woman, was invaluable to their success in a career.

When I was still at Ernst and Young, we did a lot of research on this topic, and in particular a study on women in the C-Suite (see Where will you find your next leader?),  where we looked for the correlation between success in sports and in business for women. We found that 94% of them had played sports, and over half of them played at a university level.

That makes complete sense. Success in sport is so important to success after sport, especially for young girls, because it bakes into your DNA the recipe on how to succeed. You learn through sport that hard work and practice matters. You learn discipline. You learn as an athlete how to be coached, how to be mentored, and get constructive criticism. And you would never, in a business setting, go into a meeting, just hoping the meeting goes well, the same way you would never go into a game without having studied the other team, and have a strategy.

Importantly, you learn that losing is just feedback and an opportunity to improve. When you lose a game, you study, you adjust, you change things in order to win the next time. You don't take losing as a failure, but as an opportunity to get better.

Cecile Bonino: The Olympic Games season is about to start in Paris, and as a Board member of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, I am sure you will be following your favorite sports!

Sports often teach valuable lessons in teamwork, leadership, and resilience. Can you share specific examples of how your involvement in basketball – and sports in general- has shaped your approach to leadership and inclusiveness in your career?

Beth Brooke: Sports helped me understand the value of the mosaic of a team. On a team, we each have roles: sometimes your role is to be the shooter, sometimes it is to just be the great defender and rebounder, but it's all about the mosaic of the team and you succeed by each team member playing their individual roles. I applied this every day in my career, helping people understand what their role is on our team and what role we need them to play, making sure we have team members playing to their strengths and not playing to their weaknesses.

One of the best examples I remember early in my career: I was with my brother, we were driving somewhere to some family reunion, and I was complaining about somebody on my team, just not doing something very well over and over and over… And my brother looked at me and he went “You’re the one who's got it wrong. Why are you complaining about your employee? You obviously have them playing to their weaknesses over and over again. Find out what they're good at and ask them to do that!”

Then I thought back to my basketball days, and realized that yes, it was my fault. As a leader, I needed to assess the strengths of my team and make sure I got people playing to their strengths and the mosaic would work to deliver what we needed to deliver.

Cecile Bonino: Beth, I know you are passionate about using your leadership platform to make a difference in the world. As former EY's global sponsor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and devoted advocate for the advancement of women and LGBTQIA+ community, can you share with us some of your achievements with implementing diversity initiatives in the corporate world?

Beth Brooke:  I was really proud of the fact that a handful of us worked hard behind the scenes at Davos,  at the World Economic Forum (WEF) over many years, to actually create the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality (PGLE). And that was a huge accomplishment because WEF hardly acknowledged the existence of the LGBTQIA+ agenda. It took us many years to get those topics into the mainstage and into the mainstream of Davos through the formation of this partnership for Global LGBTQIA+ Equality, to which many organizations belonged. Its mission was to simply amplify the work that everybody else was doing, not to create something new, but lift it all up in front of the world leaders.

And as part of my new portfolio of activities, I just got back from Paris, where we had 60 leaders from different sectors around the world --and all from the LGBTQIA+ community -- meeting for three days to talk about what we could do differently to make a difference on these issues for our community globally. While I had done everything I could in the business sector, I'd never sat in a room with 60 leaders from other sectors, including politicians, producers, actors, you name it!

Cecile Bonino: The current women’s basketball sensation, - Catlin Clark, just recently joined Women’s NBA and we all learned about the shocking gender pay gap (76K vs 10mill). What can we do more to close the gap in sports, accountancy profession, and universally?

Beth Brooke: I wouldn't necessarily equate the sports world to the accountancy world, which has been around a very long time.

That said, companies still carry out equity studies internally to make sure that they are paying similar amounts for similar roles, regardless of gender. And this needs to continue to try and close the gender pay gap. There's been progress, but not enough. Women still don't earn on an equivalent level to men, in general.

And, as you point out, it's clearly glaring in the sports’ world now. The US women's soccer and hockey teams brought legal suits and actually were able to get parity. But when you look at the revenue, it's not just a matter of pay equity. With Caitlin Clark, the ESPN media rights will be renegotiated again in a year, and as they continue to renegotiate media rights, there will be more revenue flowing, and therefore more revenue will flow to the players. But it's a real issue: women basketball players in the United States still have to go overseas to play in the offseason in order to get that pay equity, but Cathy Engelbert, Commissioner of the WNBA, is very focused on that issue.

Cecile Bonino: Based on your extensive experience, what strategies or initiatives do you believe could be most effective to make the accountancy profession more attractive and engaging to the younger generation?

Beth Brooke:  Attractiveness is an issue across many sectors, not just the accountancy profession. How do you make work engaging for the younger generation with the advent of AI, the impact of data, and machine learning? How do you keep things interesting?

Well, you need to think back to what you were interested as a young person. I don’t think it has changed much since when I started my career. It’s the ability to learn, to see many different things, and to advance on your own merits based on the value that you add to the workplace.

At a very basic level, keeping a profession attractive means keeping it in a state where people feel like they're contributing, they're making a difference. Based on this, the work has to be structured in a way that the younger generation can attach to a higher purpose.

It's also what the organization supports and allows people to do, both at work and outside of work. In my case, being given the opportunity by EY to be involved in my community and not-for-profit benefitted me a lot as a young and growing leader, but also then benefitted my organization.

It’s a bigger ecosystem of what brings value to a young person, an ecosystem that makes a person feel whole. If you have a portfolio of things that you are involved in, that, in totality makes you feel like you're making a difference in the world around you, this will be rewarding and fulfilling over time.

A woman in a white blazer with gray hair
Beth Brooke

US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Board Member

Beth Brooke serves on the Boards of The New York Times Company (NYT), eHealth (EHTH), SHEEX, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the Lehigh Valley Health Network. She is the Co-Chair of VERITY Now and serves on the Knight Commission and the International Advisory Council for APCO Worldwide.

She was the former Global Vice Chair, Public Policy at EY and was a member of EY's Global Board. Beth oversaw public policy for the firm’s operations in 150 countries and was the global sponsor for EY’s Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) efforts. She has been named eleven times to Forbes list of "World's 100 Most Powerful Women".

Beth is a devoted advocate for the advancement of women and LGBTQ Inclusion. She has served on the US Delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and has been named to OUTstanding and Financial Times’ LGBTQ Hall of Fame. She was instrumental in creating the Partnership for Global LGBTQ Equality, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. She currently invests in several female-founded companies related to women’s sports.

During the Clinton Administration, she worked in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and played important roles in the Administration’s healthcare reform and Superfund reform efforts.

Beth has also been actively engaged in numerous civic and business organizations. She previously chaired the board of Vital Voices and serves on the boards of The Conference Board, the Aspen Institute, and Tabby’s Place. She was in the inaugural class of the Henry Crown Fellows of The Aspen Institute.

At Purdue University, Beth was in the first class of women to receive scholarships under Title IX to play basketball and earned her undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Industrial Management, with highest distinction.  She has been inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. She has honorary doctorates from Purdue, Indiana University and Babson College.

Cecile Bonino
Cecile Bonino

Principal, Global Engagement

Cecile Bonino is Principal of Global Engagement for IFAC. She bridges global organizations' relationship management, policy support, event management, and brand awareness. A lawyer by education, Cecile has 20 years of experience in public affairs and public relations. Before joining IFAC, Cecile worked for 13 years at ACCA, where she headed EU Affairs and the ACCA Brussels office, working with European decision and policymakers, Media and key influencers, as well as global organizations. Prior to this, Cécile worked as a consultant in financial services, energy, environment, and climate change at Weber Shandwick and as Environment and Legal Affairs adviser at the European Landowners Organisation. At the beginning of her career, Cécile also worked at the DG TRADE of the European Commission, the DG Development of the College of Europe, and the law firm, Gide Loyrette Nouel. In 2012, Cécile won the ‘Public Affairs Professional of the Year’ prize at the European Public Affairs Awards.