Change From Above: Diversifying Corporate Boards

Companies often point to their boards of directors as evidence of their diversity, but a recent USA Today study showed that board membership in many companies does not reflect the racial makeup of their business’s workers or the U.S. as a whole. White men hold half or more of many board seats.

What is the role of a corporate board and why is it important to have diversity on the board? How are board members elected? What is the role of the board in helping the CEO and other leaders challenge the status quo? What happens when a board practices tokenism and how is it recognized, challenged or avoided?

Learn what is happening in the world of corporate boards and how you might be considered for one. Join us for a discussion on the ways that diversity on boards improves both a company’s bottom line and its culture.


Patricia Ackerman

Patricia Ackerman has been with A.O. Smith since 1983. The company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heating equipment with a global footprint of operations in North America, China, India and Europe. Named senior vice president in 2019 with the addition of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CRS) functions to her previous role of vice president of investor relations and treasurer, Patricia sets the company’s global CRS strategy and goals and drives improvement for operations, human capital and governance to create shareholder value. She leads investor communications, shareholder outreach, rating agency interactions, treasury and pension investment, and capital market debt financing for this $3 billion revenue global company since 2008. Over the course of her investor relations tenure, the company’s market cap grew from $1 billion to $11 billion during which time the company was added to the S&P 500 index. Patricia served on the senior leadership team during the company’s tremendous transformation and creation of significant shareholder value. Risk management, real estate and audit functions have also been her responsibility in prior roles including leading the company’s progress in enterprise risk management, internal and financial controls, and product and plant safety. She has also served as the finance team co-lead with the CFO for acquisitions, divestitures and equity offerings and played a key role in the company’s rapid expansion in China and India.

DeVona Wright Cottrell

DeVona Wright Cottrell is chief legal officer and general counsel for global experiential agency GMR Marketing and the Omnicom Experiential Group (OEG) more broadly. DeVona is a skilled attorney, results-oriented problem solver and a passionate leader and mentor. As GMR’s chief legal officer and general counsel, she serves as the agency’s key corporate legal advisor, oversees the agency’s legal and risk management teams, and acts as a partner to agency leadership.

Previously, DeVona was director and associate general counsel of Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated. She joined Baird in 2007 and had broad exposure to Baird’s businesses and primary legal responsibility for Baird’s Fixed Income Capital Markets business unit. She provided legal support to several of the firm’s corporate resource groups including Risk Management, Compliance and Facilities with regard to information security, privacy, regulatory and commercial real estate-related matters.

Outside of work, DeVona is a mentor to many and serves in a number of professional organizations and civic activities, including board chair for TEMPO Milwaukee, WI steering committee member, board member of First Federal Bank of Wisconsin and Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, Greater Milwaukee Committee Member, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County (UWGMWC) board member and co-chair of Diversity Leadership Society for UWGMWC, Hoan Group and special counsel for Greater New Birth Church. Her accolades in the past few years are many and most recently include a 2021 Women of Influence Award from the Milwaukee Business Journal.

DeVona is also a minister. She is married to educator Jade Cottrell and they have two wonderful children, Julian (15) and Jayde (10). DeVona’s personal mission statement is: To make a positive impact on each day and every person that she encounters and to build a runway where other women, youth and young professionals can see what is possible.

Inge Plautz

Inge Plautz serves as Senior Vice President and Executive Business Development Officer for Old National Bank (ONB) Wisconsin. In her role, she represents all major business lines and advises clients on strategic business matters. As a banker, business adviser and connector, Inge delivers value in supporting the deliberate growth strategies of clients. Adding value by offering scenarios and options of financing strategies, educating on market trends and competitive industry topics. Having spent time in industries other than banking, she offers a diverse experience, earned expertise and comprehension of business.

Prior to joining ONB in 2018, Inge spent more than 13 years within finance, accounting, and commercial insurance. Inge’s expertise includes Global Trade, Leveraged Finance, Bond Financing, Structured Finance, Capital Markets and traditional Commercial and Industrial banking. She also has deep industry knowledge in Health Care and Employee Benefits.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Inge holds an Executive Masters of Business Administration and a Bachelors Degree with triple majors in Finance, International Business and French. A native of South Africa, Inge speaks four languages including Afrikaans, French and Zulu.
In 2020 the BizTimes Media recognized Inge by awarding her a “Notable Women in Commercial Banking” honor and in 2021 Inge was acknowledged by the Milwaukee Business Journal as a “40 Under 40” recipient.

Inge is an avid community supporter with extensive Board and volunteer service with a particular focus on empowerment of young women and STEAM/STEM. She is the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the First Tee of Southeast Wisconsin and serves as the Chair of the Development Committee. She also co-founded the Wisconsin Chapter of the nationwide Private Directors Association and serves as the Vice President and Chair of the Programs Committee for the fastest growing chapter in the nation. Additionally, she is an active member in TEMPO Milwaukee, UW Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference Advisory Council, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee Celebrating G.I.R.L.S. Committee.

Inge serves on the Advisory Board of a Software as a Service company called LeaseCrunch and she is the Co-founder of PumpHero, LLC, which is a mobile application and virtual community that is committed to retuning dignity to the journey of becoming a new mom. She is a certified PADI Rescue Diver and holds a State of Wisconsin Accident, Health & Life License.