Rockwell Automation names first Latina vice president of global affairs

Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation Inc. promoted Patricia Contreras as the company's first Latina vice president of global affairs. The new appointment was effective July 1.

Contreras will oversee Rockwell Automation's federal and state government affairs, external communications, issues management, media relations, corporate responsibility and environmental, social and governance reporting in addition to community relations and contributions group.

Contreras began with Rockwell (NYSE: ROK) in 2008 as the manager of global community relations. Since November 2016, she has served as the director of global community relations and contributions. In her over 10 years with the company, Contreras has worked with Rockwell's philanthropic efforts, which include nonprofit organizations like FIRST, Project Lead the Way and ST Math.

She was a 2018 Milwaukee Business Journal 40 Under 40 winner.

A lot of Contreras' responsibilities have been in workforce development, specifically with STEM educations in the K-12 space. Rockwell has partnered with Milwaukee Public Schools on programming to build the ecosystem for such skill shortages.

"That's why we choose to partner specifically with public schools to help with what we see as two gaps, the opportunity gap and the belief gap," Contreras said.

The opportunity gap is that students in public schools have the same opportunities as non-public school students. The belief gap brings employees into the classroom to show students people that look like them.

"The power behind that is everything. We know that impact not only is had in the community and in the young people we're seeing, but also for our employees. That employee engagement really aligning with company purpose and volunteerism is very important to our employees," she said.

Contreras said her greatest accomplishment has been seeing Rockwell's investment in education turn into successful employees with the company. She talked about one former Rufus King High School student, Jay Flores, who took advantage of Rockwell's programming with MPS and is now the STEM ambassador within the company's community relations department.

“Patricia has always put Rockwell Automation’s people and communities first, as evident by the critical role she has played in the development of our philanthropic relationships and growth in the community,” Rockwell Automation chairman and CEO Blake Moret said in a press release. “Patricia is the perfect fit for this role – to oversee and build a strategy which taps into our unique capabilities and resources to further expand human possibility in the communities we serve.”

Prior to her time at Rockwell Automation, Contreras served as a community relations specialist for Kohl's Department Stores and the coordinator of community relations for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Contreras will continue to serve as the secretary of Rockwell Automation Charitable Corp. She also represents the company on advisory councils including FIRST, MIND Research Institute and the Georgetown University New Strategies.

“Patricia has guided MIND Research Institute through tremendous growth over the past five years,” MIND Research Institute executive vice president and executive director of social impact Karin Wu said in a press release. “Her authentic passion and thought leadership around increasing equitable access to STEM education is truly inspiring. Her visionary leadership has helped us impact more students and create community engagement programs that transform entire schools and their families’ relationship with math.”

She is also a Milwaukee native and locally serves on the board of the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network, United Way of Greater Milwaukee, Waukesha County Campaign Cabinet and Volunteer Council and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Committee for Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Contreras has a bachelor's degree in finance from the Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"I grew up in the shadows of the clock tower, just a few blocks from the headquarters," Contreras said.

She is the first Latina to lead the company's global public affairs function, something that is hard for her to express in words.

"I stand on the shoulder of giants, of the many women who have come before me whether at Rockwell or outside of Rockwell who have smashed ceilings whether glass or concrete," she said. "As a woman of color, it's a big deal. I would say it's a big deal for my daughter, who is six years old and for our community, for the young women who are also growing up in the shadow of the clock who are products of Milwaukee Public Schools that they can see someone and look up to them but also see what's possible."