A Black and Brown-owned national consulting firm that centers Human Equity as the catalyst for change.
Real communities make the best workplace. What makes a community? A community is a space, a shared space made up of people with particular characteristics. They feel a sense of belonging. Together they feel purpose. There’s a shared sense of agreement as they move toward a common goal. A community doesn’t form overnight. It’s not forced or spoken into existence—it can only be formed gradually. And it takes a special group within the community to not only guide it, but to keep it moving forward. Gradient’s story is one of community.
The Gradient Story
Their relationship spans 20 years of guiding one another along their own individual paths—paths that would ultimately form a unique team to apply their training, expertise and lived experiences to lift businesses up and guide people to discover the best versions of themselves. Grounding heads and hearts, today Gradient stands to form a community in the workplace—a Gradient Community that tells a new story for businesses and its people: one of wellbeing, transformation and long-term success. And as they share their new stories—their new narrative, more Gradient Communities will form, more people will be impacted and more business will find a version of themselves they never thought was possible.
Many see DEIB work as a means to a greater end. Gradient sees the journey as an end in itself. Our Human Equity approach is about doing DEIB work differently and helping organizations think through the reality that we live in a world where some people do not feel seen or heard. Gradient creates space to invite conversations to take place and relationships to grow by guiding their clients on their own journey to discovery. This unique method of allowing the client in the driver’s seat has the ability to break down misperceptions and relieve tensions while creating stronger and lasting outcomes—transformational change.
“The old way of approaching these issues with perfunctory, so-called sensitivity training is no longer acceptable. Today, no one is going to “hug it out” after a single lecture about embracing difference. According to a 2016 report from the Harvard Business Review, traditional sensitivity training can be ineffectual and can breed resentment. Even the term itself has fallen out of favor.”
— The New York Times
Within Gradient communities:
- Leadership sees the performance of their employees and the quality of their workplace improve.
- Employers see DEIB as a worthy investment for their business.
- Human Resources see new talent interested in being employed and being able to recruit people they couldn’t recruit before.
- Employees feel psychologically safe in a community – where they can see a better version of themselves, learn from others and grow.
- The Community learns from the importance of DEIB and sees the impact of its value.
Meet Our Team
Robbin Hudson, MBA, CPDC
Founder & Senior Partner
Robbin is a visionary, strategist, builder and connector. At the center of her work is a deep passion for eliminating poverty and eradicating racism. She values both the grassroots and visionary efforts required to build effective pathways for people and organizations to flourish. Robbin has thrived in leadership roles in the business, government, nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. In each sector she developed and managed innovative projects to support strategic growth and sustainability. Robbin holds an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management and a BA Economics from Mount Holyoke College. She is a certified professional leadership and diversity coach. Robbin is currently a Council on Foundations Career Pathways Fellow.
Jerry E. Peña, CPDC
Founder & Senior Partner
Jerry at heart is a community organizer and social justice practitioner. He has over 20 years of experience advocating for people of color and organizing to change policies that have impacted impoverished communities in this country. This work has helped Jerry understand that you must walk side by side with the people and give voice to those who feel voiceless. Jerry has practiced his craft and worked on social issue campaigns like a pathway to citizenship for the Undocumented, restoration of rights for Returning Citizens and Advocating for Crime Survivors in communities of color all over the country. Working deeply in states like Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Washington D.C., and California around strategy objectives and story of self-techniques. Jerry holds a BA in Organizational Leadership from Baldwin Wallace University with a minor in Communications, is a fellow at the James Lawson Institute and a Network Builder at Neighborhood Connections and is the Founder of Estrategia a consulting firm focused on Leadership Development, Strategies and Coaching.
Victor A. Ruiz, M.ED, CPDC
Founder & Senior Partner
Victor is a courageous leader and advocate with a body of work that spans over 20 years. He is an Executive Director, Coach, Consultant and active member of his community. As Executive Director of Esperanza, Inc., an organization founded in 1983 to advocate on behalf of and improve the academic achievements of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland, the organization has grown tremendously. It has been a leader in addressing the educational needs of Cleveland’s Latinx community. Victor’s coaching and consulting practice focuses on working with individuals and organizations to help them recognize their power and potential and use it to benefit themselves and their community.
Director of Operations
Heather is passionate about helping businesses grow. Especially those that are tackling society’s biggest challenges. The pandemic thoroughly disrupted her life and opened her eyes to what matters. With new intention and purpose and drawing upon her decades of experience with various organizations, she works with startups and small businesses on tasks including business operations, content strategy and public relations. Prior to consulting, Heather spent over a decade working in financial services in both New York City and Cleveland for firms such as Capital Group Companies, J.P. Morgan and Merrill Private Wealth Management. Heather earned a BS in Environmental Policy and Behavior from The University of Michigan and an MBA focusing on finance and entrepreneurship from the Weatherhead School of Management.
Project Manager & Operations Support Specialist
Jack has an undergraduate degree in Communication, a minor in Psychology and a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology. He spent one year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation. Then, he returned to his Alma Mater, the University of Cincinnati, to further his career with the Warren Bennis Leadership Experience, which he conceived and founded during his undergraduate studies. After completing his master’s degree, Jack worked as the director for Leadership Council for Nonprofits’ board training and placement programs. Jack is a Clevelander passionate about building community.
Destiny has an undergraduate degree in political science and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. She spent her time during college in multiple leadership roles and dedicated herself to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the entire student body through programming and advocacy work.
Brandi Blessett, Ph.D
Brandi is an associate professor and Director of the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) at the University of Cincinnati (UC). The MPA program at UC is the only program in the country that has a social justice focus. Her research focuses on administrative responsibility, disenfranchisement and social equity. Much of her recent work acknowledges the disproportionate effects the criminal legal system has on people and communities of color. Specifically, she offers insight into the effects of institutional injustice and their implications for underrepresented communities. Dr. Blessett’s research agenda advocates for ethical practices, professional standards, and accountability measures to promote equity, justice and fairness to all factions of U.S. society. Brandi’s areas of expertise include community engaged research, strategic planning, facilitation, DEI trainings and equity audits.
Luis Cartagena, CPA
Luis is President/CEO of Cartagena CPA & Consultants, LLC, a firm that provides accounting, tax, financial management and consulting services to individuals and small to medium size companies. In his previous role as Inclusion Officer for Cuyahoga County, he focused on policy change and creation, diversity spend, outreach and both internal and external communications regarding the County’s inclusion initiatives. Cartagena worked as the Strategic Planning Business Advisor with the Minority Business Development Agency, where he assisted minority-owned business enterprises in creating and retaining jobs via access to procurement opportunities in both the private and public sectors. He also assisted firms in securing access to capital via venture capital, microlending, or government-supported loan guarantee programs. Luis’ areas of expertise include accounting and financial management, equitable spend compliance/evaluation in procurement, and diversity and inclusion business outreach.
Carmen is a two-time executive, serving as Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief of Staff in organizations specializing in Talent, Risk Management, and a variety of internal functions (Advocacy, Analytics, Communications, Compliance, DEI, Grants, Marketing, Operations, and Strategy). She has been employed as a subject matter expert and leader of numerous work streams building broad and deep knowledge. Her passion for systems thinking, future planning, and strategies for growth have become areas of specialization and she is uniquely motivated to bring them to Gradient. She is an advocate for agency, equity, inclusion, and justice by locking arms across differences. Carmen believes that rooms with diversity have the most comprehensive views of the world. A certified cognitive coach, an avid sports fan and loyal teammate, Carmen looks forward to partnering with organizations to realize their desires to be high functioning while leaning into complexity and nuance.
Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Ph.D
Tia is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, Founding Director of the Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation and Co-director of The Cincinnati Project at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests explore the intersection of social justice, local government and identity. More specifically, focusing on the varying ways administrative discretion and decision-making can lead to inequitable outcomes for people of color, those who identify as LGBTQIA and people at the intersections of these and other identities. Most recently, her work has centered on policing, race and gender identity. Tia’s areas of expertise are strategic planning, program evaluation, training, DEI in organizational development and curriculum development.
Eric is the Director of Organizational Performance & Strategy at Youth Opportunities Unlimited. He is also a Senior Certified Professional with the Society for Human Resources Management and a certified Appreciative Inquiry facilitator with the XChange community. As an experienced practitioner in strategy, operations, and talent management; Eric leverages these skills to help community-based organizations with mission, vision, values, strategic planning and talent engagement/development initiatives. Prior to his work in the non-profit arena, Eric worked for over 20 years in progressive operational leadership roles for the global management consulting firms: Booz | Allen | Hamilton, Booz & Company and Strategy&, where he served concurrently as the Director of Global Real Estate and the North American Director of Administrative Services.
Ashmi is a connector and listener who believes in creating human-centered solutions. She comes with years of leadership development experience and aims to empower others to lead with empathy and their whole self. Her work at Sova focuses on improving the quality and accelerating the pace of complex problem solving in the areas of higher education, led by a commitment to advancing socioeconomic mobility for more Americans. Previously, Ashmi served as the Director of the Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity at Eastfield Community College, where she developed programs to enhance students’ social and intellectual development, eliminate barriers to student access and success and develop a culture of equity-mindedness and inclusivity. As a Program Associate at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, Ashmi worked on executive leadership development for aspiring community college presidents. Ashmi holds a BA from Southern Methodist University and an MA from Rutgers University in religious studies.
Yesenia Santiago Martinez
Yesenia is a highly experienced professional in marketing and communications. She has worked with organizations ranging from not-for-profits to small businesses, to large international corporations. She has excellent interpersonal and managerial skills and is committed to developing innovative ideas and strategies for her customers. Her extensive experience includes customer service, logistics, events coordination, brand management, planograms, evaluations and recommendations on points of sale, advertising, media and public relations. Yesenia has a master’s degree in International Marketing, and a bachelor’s degree in Management Communication from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. She also has a Certification in the European Forum from the Business School of Navarra, Spain. Some of her most satisfying and rewarding work has been with the non-profits Make a Wish Foundation and Fundación de Niño San Jorge. These experiences made a tremendous impact on her life and has strengthened her commitment to her community. Yesenia has a master’s degree in International Marketing, and a bachelor’s degree in Management Communication from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. She also has a Certification in the European Forum from the Business School of Navarra, Spain. Some of her most satisfying and rewarding work has been with the non-profits Make a Wish Foundation and Fundación de Niño San Jorge. These experiences made a tremendous impact on her life and has strengthened her commitment to her community.