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2017 Theodore Roosevelt Award: Beth Brooke-Marciniak

Former Purdue basketball star now a leading voice for inclusion

Making a difference, particularly through inclusive leadership, is what drives Beth Brooke-Marciniak — so much so that she considers her “night job” as the global sponsor of EY’s diversity and inclusiveness efforts as important as her “day job” as the company’s global vice chair for public policy.

A successful business leader and tireless champion of inclusion and diversity, Beth Brooke-Marciniak is the 2017 recipient of the NCAA’s highest honor: the Theodore Roosevelt Award. She will be recognized at the NCAA Honors Celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Nashville, Tennessee. The award, which is given annually to an individual who exemplifies the ideals of college sports, is named after the former president whose concern for the conduct of college athletics led to the formation of the NCAA in 1906.

The former member of the Purdue University women’s basketball team has become both advocate and executive at EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, where she has spent more than three decades (excluding a two-year stint working in the Department of the Treasury during the Clinton administration). Along the way, she has been included on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women nine times.

With total annual revenues of roughly $29.6 billion and more than 231,000 employees working in more than 700 offices in 152 countries, EY has provided a vast platform for her to champion change. The belief that difference matters and recognition that everyone is different underpin her efforts to foster and reward inclusivity in the workplace and beyond.

“I’m so glad I was mentored by some partners in our firm early who supported that student-athlete in me to challenge the status quo,” she said. “How do we make this better? How can we be better? How do we do this better?”

Mark Weinberger, EY global chairman and CEO, said Brooke-Marciniak exemplifies the leadership qualities and core values of the organization. 

“Beth’s persistence and unwavering spirit are among the many reasons why her contributions to EY, business, sport and society have transcended borders and generated progress,” he said.

In 2012, Moira Forbes, publisher of ForbesWoman, a multimedia platform serving successful women in business and leadership, wrote a piece describing Brooke-Marciniak’s decision to reveal her authentic self as an openly gay woman in the workforce. “Beth reminds us that our most powerful self comes when we embrace difference, both in ourselves and in others,” Forbes said recently.

Brooke-Marciniak said finding happiness and peace in her personal life changed her professional life for the better. In 2014, she married Michelle Brooke-Marciniak, a former NCAA champion and University of Tennessee, Knoxville, basketball All-American.

“EY wasn’t getting the best of me; my friends weren’t getting the best of me; my family wasn’t getting the best of me, and it’s only in hindsight that I see it is your difference that makes you valuable,” Beth Brooke-Marciniak said.

The notion that female athletes were an untapped pool of leadership talent spurred her to help create the EY Women Athletes Business Network in 2013. The program’s goal? To prepare young women to make an impact in a new life outside their sport. The initiative includes a mentorship program, launched through a partnership with the International Women’s Forum, which matches 25 elite female athletes with top female business leaders.

“An athlete has the recipe for success built into them,” Brooke-Marciniak said. “That constant quest for perfection and success and various pieces of it translate so naturally into the business world.”

As the lead advisor for the EY Women Athletes Business Network, Donna de Varona — a 1964 Olympic swimming gold medalist, recipient of the 2003 Theodore Roosevelt Award and longtime pioneer for female athletes and broadcasters — worked with Brooke-Marciniak to launch the program.

“She has been a trailblazer her entire life, clearing a path for all, not only in sports but in the male-dominated world of business,” de Varona said. “She has used her global platform of influence to champion diversity, to create visionary programs, to conduct research and to speak to the promise of equality for all in a world that needs the productive capabilities of one-half of the world’s population.” 

Brooke-Marciniak regularly speaks to audiences large and small regarding business, leadership and inclusion issues. Yet no matter how far-flung the destination, her small-town roots keep Brooke-Marciniak grounded. She starred at tiny Taylor High School in Kokomo, Indiana. She played tennis, golf and softball in addition to demonstrating her prowess on the basketball court, where she averaged 22 points and 18 rebounds as a senior. In 1977, the former Beth Millard headed 45 miles west to West Lafayette to attend Purdue. She was one of the first women to receive a basketball scholarship at the school.

“She knew what decisions were going to help get her to where she wanted to go,” said Nancy Cross, a senior associate athletics director at Purdue who was an assistant coach during Brooke-Marciniak’s playing days. “So right from the beginning she never vacillated on what she wanted to do.”

When her schedule allows, Brooke-Marciniak relishes returning to share the insight she has gained through the years with students at Purdue, where she earned a bachelor’s degree with highest distinction in industrial management/computer science in 1981 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2012. Brooke-Marciniak has given back to Purdue students in a litany of ways, ranging from a webinar for student-athletes who have an interest in getting into a Master of Business Administration program, to serving on the dean’s advisory council for the Purdue Krannert School of Management, to speaking to the women’s basketball team before games.

“We try not to exploit her, but she’s such an amazing woman who benefited from an athletic scholarship and the whole athletic experience,” Cross said. “We want others to realize that this is all a possibility.”

As to what Brooke-Marciniak’s legacy will be, the tireless champion of inclusion and diversity has an answer.

“I just never want to stop trying to make a difference — that’s what drives me every day.”