A Foundation for Success: How One Woman Shattered the Glass Ceiling
Entrepreneurship If you were to peak inside the corner offices of today’s Fortune 500 companies, you’d find 24 women, a mere 4.8 percent, sitting at the CEO desk. Gina Dennis is looking to change that statistic.
When Gina Dennis walks into a room full of men, she hardly blinks an eye.
That’s the mentality Dennis, 35, who started the international green consulting firm Relerience in 2009, has always used when approaching her academic and professional pursuits.
A Washington, D.C., native, Dennis’ parents raised her and her two brothers on ideas of hard work and equality. She never felt at odds with her twin brother, Gary, and her younger brother, Gregory, looks up to her, she says.
“My parents taught us that we should treat everyone as if we come from the same source,” Dennis says. “Gender was never an issue.”
Dennis received her undergraduate degree at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she majored in political science and psychology. Those degrees fulfilled her desire to learn more about human behavior, as well as logic, government and law.
During her tenure at Spelman, Dennis studied abroad in South Africa before interning at the White House in the president’s office. That experience solidified her goal to delve deeper into law, she says, but her interest in business remained strong.
In the midst of being pursued aggressively by Goldman Sachs in 2000, Dennis struck an even bigger pot of gold: the opportunity to earn a dual degree in business and law.
At American University, in the District, Dennis started setting the foundation for her future company.
The dual program was unique because the degrees were synergistic, she says.
A foundation for success
“When I graduated, I had a practical understanding of how businesses are created,” Dennis explains. “I learned that anyone could create a company, as long as you have a passion to create value and you’re inventing a new service or a new product.”
Dennis formulated the idea for Relerience while working for a sovereign wealth fund, where she had been accepting large real estate transactions that were regulated by LEED standards, which rate buildings on sustainability.
She realized navigating those rules would be more efficient in a consulting capacity, not at a traditional law firm. And so Relerience was born.
The company’s track record includes conducting a survey of over 700 LEED and Energy Star buildings in the District, Maryland and Virginia, plus the development of a green energy business conference that over 200 businesses attended virtually and in person last year. Currently on Relerience’s agenda is screening a building in the District that will be among the first sustainable facilities for women.
Bridging the gap
Although Dennis, as a female, represents a small number of female CEOs in the United States, through her work she’s helping shrink that gap.
She advises other aspiring female entrepreneurs to embrace their womanhood and believe they can achieve their goals.
“It all starts with the individual: You have to believe in your invention, your service, your product,” Dennis says. “I create value for my clients every day, innovatively and aggressively, all the while embracing the best things about me, including being a woman.”