“Growing up I never saw people who looked like me (Hispanic/Latinx) or who identified like me (LGBTQ+) in leadership or in corporate spaces,” says Jesse Gutierrez (MLD ’16). This lack of representation inspired him to work on a capstone project focused on leadership development for LGBTQ+ youth while completing his Masters of Leadership Development at Chapman University. In doing so, he discovered a talent for empathy and community building, and a passion that has led him to seek a new career direction in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI).
While laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jesse launched Hymn, a coaching and consulting firm that promotes DEI via education and celebration, where he serve as Founder and CEO. Jesse also holds the role of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Manager at Upwork.
“There are huge gaps in representation across leadership for gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, etc.,” Jesse says. “I feel privileged and lucky to hold a role where I can support belonging for individuals across all backgrounds.”
Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman? Why?
Penny Bryan had such a strong impact on me personally and professionally; her empathetic leadership style resonates with me and continues to inspire me to this day. I continue to center empathetic leadership within my personal and professional environments.
If you could go back in time and experience one moment again from your time at Chapman, what would it be? Is there anything that you would do differently?
To be honest, I miss my Masters of Leadership Development (MLD) peers the most. It was so inspiring to learn alongside passionate, driven and purposeful leaders. Now that I’m in Chicago, it’s not physically possible to see my cohort as often but thanks to social media we still keep in touch. A memory that stands out was an MLD Halloween party where we all dressed up — it was a great way to end my time in the program with some of my peers!
What do you wish you knew at the time of your graduation that you know now? What advice can you give to the students and/or recent graduates of today?
You will learn so much about yourself during the MLD; don’t take these learnings for granted. Think about how your makeup, your leadership, will help you make an impact outside of the program. For me, I realized empathy was a strength, inclusion was a strength, community building was a strength. I leaned into this and it led me into a formal career in the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging space. Find what fuels your passions and do that!
How did Chapman prepare you for your career? How did your experience prepare you for the real world?
I never knew I could have a formal career in Diversity & Inclusion but my time in the MLD showed me this was possible. I started in Business Operations right after completing the MLD but I held true to my core values and found ways to integrate my learnings within corporate America. Even though I was in business operations, I integrated Diversity and Inclusion wherever and whenever possible. This shaped my professional brand and it propelled me into a career in the space, formally. Whatever you enjoy, whatever you are good at, make sure you communicate that externally. Your brand matters, and it’ll get you far.
What were the most challenging social/societal issue in our country/world that you faced as a young college student? What was your perspective or how did you get involved?
For me, it was seeing a lack of representation in leadership from the Hispanic/Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities. Growing up I never saw people who looked like me (Hispanic/Latinx) or who identified like me (LGBTQ+) in leadership or in corporate spaces. This inspired me to center my capstone project on Leadership Development for LGBTQ+ youth. This work, and my experiences, drive me to continue my work in Diversity & Inclusion within corporate America.
There are huge gaps in representation across leadership for gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, etc. and I feel privileged and lucky to hold a role where I can support belonging for individuals across all backgrounds. I saw gaps in previous companies and I raised my hand to step up to lead Diversity and Inclusion projects.
Follow your passion, do what you are good at, and you will positively impact those around you. Not only will you impact the communities you live in, work in and play in, but you will find a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment. That’s the cherry on top.