AWESOME Speaks with Regenia Sanders about Black History Month

February 23, 202414 minute read

As we celebrate Black History Month, we dedicate this section of our Alert to sharing resources that highlight the experiences and stories of Black Americans throughout history. Join us in exploring these important narratives and celebrating the diversity of voices that have shaped our world. 

Throughout the month, we interviewed AWESOME women leaders of color to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives on intersectionality in the supply chain industry. We had the opportunity to speak with Regenia Sanders, Principal at EY, about her career journey in supply chain and thoughts about Black History Month in 2024. 


How did you navigate the supply chain industry to get to where you are now?

Regenia Sanders

I like to tell people that I, in some ways, fell into supply chain. I studied mechanical engineering in undergrad, and I did my master’s degree in material science and engineering.

It was a planned path to eventually do a PhD in engineering because there were not a lot of black people in engineering that have PhDs nor a lot of women. I tend to gravitate towards those hard things that there are not a lot of people doing.

As much as I liked engineering, I really didn’t want to do it, but I wanted to be in and around it. I really wanted to tackle more of the business problems associated with engineering and the jobs when I co-oped and intern that really interested me the most––were the roles and people who were engineers, but they were leading large programs and really making that connection with overall business.

When I started interviewing, I was introduced to consulting, and the rest is history.  My first job was with a large consulting firm. It just so happened that my very first project was coding manufacturing execution systems (MES). That was comfortable for me because in my manufacturing and controls classes I learned these foundational elements…and what it did was began to place me squarely in the center of supply chain that evolved into doing work in production scheduling which evolved into supply planning, which got me involved me in procurement work. And then in other projects I ended up doing fulfillment operations. By five years in, I became a supply chain person. I didn’t know what supply chain was until I really was in the throes of it, and I’ve found it to be rewarding career.

And when I think back, I wish when I were in college, there were majors like there are today in supply chain.


What were some challenges?


When I started working in supply chain, there were really not a lot of other women. I started my career in 1997 and at that point in time, the field that I was in, professional services, as well as supply chain was very much male dominated and when I looked around for people of color, there were very few as well.

I don’t know if that really stood out to me at the time because I was just doing the work. But, when I think back on it, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me that were role models for me, which is different today because there are more women, there are a few more people of color, including black people and people from other countries.

When I think back, it might have made me more comfortable had I seen more people who looked like me, but I didn’t, and perhaps that was a bit of a hurdle. I don’t know that I recognized it that way at the time because as an engineering major. I was always the only woman and black person in my classes, so I was kind of used to not seeing a lot of people like me.


How would you overcome those challenges now?


At the level that I am in my career now, there are still not a lot of people who look like me, but how do I navigate it?

I navigate it by trying to make sure that I’m always bringing my best to the table so that I can represent well and have other people see that women and black people, people of color… can also aspire to and excel in these positions too. And in so doing, knowing that I am a role model for so many people who are women, who are black, who don’t see a lot of people like them in these types of roles.

I take my role and where I sit very seriously because I know that it’s important for me to always bring my “A game” no matter what…Because people are watching.  And I’m not necessarily talking about peers watching. I’m talking about the junior people who I interact with on a day-to-day basis, and even those who might see me on a webcast or read an article that I put on LinkedIn. I am an example, and those are the people that I’m concerned about because I want to make sure that I show up for them. To show them that yes, this is also attainable for you.


In your opinion, what strides have been made in terms of DEI since the last Black History Month?


It’s kind of hard to see progress year over year. I think that, better for me is to think back like maybe five years ago. I think that a lot of the catalyst for the emphasis on DEI, quite frankly, hit a resurgence with George Floyd. It got the nation’s attention, and when it got the nation’s attention, it got a lot of corporate attention—and with it a lot more intentionality of having the conversation.

We’ve been talking about DEI since I started my career in ‘97. Have I seen the needle move? I have. Is there opportunity for it to move even further? There absolutely is. In some areas, maybe we have taken a step back, but I think overall we’ve gotten better. The key thing that I remember someone saying in a seminar was that we really won’t see real change until we see a critical mass of individuals that are minorities, be it women, be it black people, be it Latinos and Hispanics. We won’t see it until we have a critical mass.

When I consider fields like supply chain and like management consulting, these are non-traditional fields for people of color and women. I think that we’re getting close to having a critical mass of women. I think we’re further behind in having a critical mass of some other ethnic minority groups, but we are making strides.

That whole notion of critical mass can be subjective, but I think that the point of the matter is that you just need to see more people that are there for it to gain the momentum to attract others to it. Individuals must see people who are more like them or have the same characteristics as they do be successful. When others see people who look like them, that they can relate to, being successful, they begin to say ,“I can be successful in doing that, too.”


Are there any specific achievements or moments that stand out to you?


Organizations like AWESOME have been great in terms of exposing me to other women who are in supply chain. Over the last few years, because we’ve attracted a more diverse group of  women.  People know people which has enable us to heighten broader awareness to organizations like AWESOME.  This same type of process happens across the board. I try to be a connector to assist in this process.

The progress that I’ve seen is we’re having the conversation a lot more and we’re connecting the dots. We’re taking mentorship, and more importantly, sponsorship a lot more seriously and looking at that next generation.  I do think that we’ll have that critical mass that I talked about because I feel like we’re building that pipeline and that’s something else that is different that I’m seeing – we have a much more significant pipeline of black people as well as women who are entering into this supply chain and in my case professional services.


How important do you think mentorship is for black women leaders, and have you had mentors who played a crucial role in your career?


I think it’s extremely important to have mentors for Black woman in corporate America in general. Because we have a shared experience, right? Even though we might have come from different places and had different experiences in our careers or in our education, the two things that we do have in common is that we’re black and that we’re women. And with that comes some similar experiences.

I think it’s important for us to share our stories and especially with the next generation of young black women, so that they can see how we did it and overcame any challenges. It becomes motivating and encouraging.

Something that I take extremely seriously is my role as a mentor. On any given week, I have at least 2 calls with young women or young black women at my firm who reach out to me because they’ve seen me in an interview, read one of my articles or someone has said, ‘oh, you just joined the firm, you should talk to Regenia.’ It really becomes a motivator for me to continue to be successful so that I can continue to be a good mentor to them. And it also motivates me to see them having someone they can talk to who they feel like they can relate to. I literally can see in their eyes light up like, ‘Wow. You did that. Oh, you experienced that. Oh, I did too.’ And we’re just engaging in a conversation. I always want to maintain that level of being approachable because I firmly believe that the true mark of a leader is how well he or she develops those around them.

As a Black woman leader, it’s really important to me to develop those that are around me and share my experiences. I didn’t get here alone. I come from a family of educators and of course I had my mother, aunts and older cousins, but none were in my chosen career.  I had a lot of mentors, but I didn’t have a lot of black women mentors in my field because there just weren’t many during the years that I was progressing in my career.  However, when I did see one, I immediately gravitated towards that person. And I see that same thing happening with young women that I coach.  Now, when I look at the mentors that I’ve had through the years, a lot were white men because there the primary people I worked with in supply chain that I could look to, and there have been several that have really poured into me and helped me because they saw a spark or  had a genuine desire to  see me be successful and they invested time with me. There have been other women that I’ve been exposed to as well. I’m just glad now that we’re beginning to have more and more Black women who can also be that example for this next generation that’s coming up.


What advice would you give to aspiring black women leaders in terms of seeking mentorship and building a supportive professional network?


Reach out to individuals that are in roles that you aspire to being in and ask them what their journey was and find a common point. Recently, I said the same thing to young woman who reached out to me – ‘just like you reached out to me, you can reach out to others.’ And the young woman said, ‘well, Regenia, it was easy to reach out to you because you’re also black and you’re a woman in this field.’ I had to pause when she said that because it reiterates the point of why it’s so important to have that representation. My dad used to always say that “water seeks its level” and what he meant in saying is that you tend to gravitate towards people or individuals that are like you, right? So, we’ve just got to have more of us so people can reach out to us to get that extra encouragement or story of how we overcame challenges and let them know they can do the same.


Are there any specific initiatives or programs you believe have a significant impact on promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace?


Organizations can do better by being intentional about diversity or being intentional about who they’re reaching out to come to their events. I think all it takes is a conversation.

Organizations just need to utilize their people more and to find out who they know. And make a compelling story to draw those people in.


How do you think the supply chain industry could better dedicate itself to black leaders and employees?


I think number one is connecting with us, number two, bringing awareness that we really do exist, and number three is creating forums where we can get together and share our stories.

One of the gifts I have being a connector. And I think that’s the duty of organizations to connect as well.

I think it’s funny because I think about Ann Drake’s story and how AWESOME came to be when she received the award at CSCMP. When she looked around and she was the first woman who’d ever received that award. She was like, well, wait a second. I know a lot of other women who were in supply chain. Let me just convene them together.

Well, likewise, for me as a black woman in supply chain over the years, I’ve come to amass a network of other women who are in supply chain who are also black.

So, it starts with you and you recognizing how you can connect the dots and bring people in. And that heightens the awareness, and it creates a forum for others to do the same thing.


How do you feel when organizations use their people as an asset?


If the mission, goal, and purpose is a noble one to connect people, to help them grow professionally, to help them become leaders, then I’m completely okay with that because I think that as a leader, it is our responsibility to grow people around us. And particularly as a black person who has achieved what I’ve been blessed to achieve in my career, it quite frankly feels like my duty to do that.

Perhaps not all people feel that way, but I do feel that, especially black people who have endured seeing their families endure a lot of things in the past that were not so pleasant. To now be able to learn from the past and influence those negative things to not happen again, to be play a role in making the world more aware, to be in a position of, you know, lifting others as we climb ourselves, I just feel like that’s noble for us to do that.  It’s the right thing.

And if an organization sees that as an opportunity to engage people and to help people connect on that level, that I’m completely in favor of it.


That’s amazing. It’s like you recognize that you’re an extension of this bigger picture.


I want to make sure that I lead in such a way that they recognize that once they get to this level, it’s their responsibility to do the same.


One of the philosophies that I’ve adopted is paying it forward to others. And so, I feel like that’s like touching the same realm as being an extender to connecting people in our industry.


Here’s something that’s resonating in my mind, and I’m going to say it. When I was growing up, I was part of this organization that was called the National Association of Women and Youths Clubs and it was started by this black woman named Mary Church Terrell and her whole point in starting this, was to be a connector for black women to make an impact in the community.

The purpose was of course to be visible in the community, but it was also purposed to have pride in being black women. They had chapters for young people, and we had a pledge that we had to say at the end of all our meetings, and I remember it to this day, that I’d like to share because I feel like it just really epitomizes what I think in my role now as a black woman, and what I do for other people means:

On my honor, I pledge to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. To face life squarely, to have a definite plan and purpose in life, to strive to seek the highest ideals for my soul and live up to them.

To learn the secret of teamwork, to have faith in God, faith in others, and faith in myself. To cultivate thrift, honesty, truthfulness, and reliance, and to realize that persistent good will break down barriers. To be honest to myself and true to my country and ready to lift as I climb…

And we would always end every meeting with that. We would say “lifting as I climb” three times at the end of our meetings. As a young black girl growing up and when you’re going to these meetings, you’re just going because your friends are there, but the things that we learned and did in the community were meaningful.

And when I think to when we would have our regional meetings and we would have the older women there, the older black women, who a lot of them were teachers in education, some of them were in business…but I just remember sitting there and seeing these women on stage and saying, “I want to be that one day.” The principles and the things that we did taught us the value of giving back to others and, to me, when I think about Black History Month, what it means to me is reflecting on the past and on the contributions that black people have made to our community and world, but it also gives me the opportunity to reflect on what legacy I am leaving behind?

Black history can be a big thing, but it can also be a very small and personal thing. During this entire month, to me, it’s about reflection. It’s about awareness. It’s about making sure that I’m doing my part to carry on the legacy of my parents and all the black leaders who have gone before me.


As our conversation comes to a close, what call to action would you like to extend to organizations and individuals to further support and uplift black women in leadership roles?


Have a conversation and step outside your comfort zone to recognize that there are black people, black women, others that are underrepresented out there who want to be heard, who deserve to be heard, and who are ready to be heard, to share their stories, to inspire and uplift others.