Supporting Small Business Owners Is Personal for Supplier Diversity Associate

American Honda associate Samantha Varela learned at a young age how to make ends meet. She developed this mindset while growing up and watching her mother and maintains this mentality today as a senior supplier diversity specialist.

“My mom was a single parent with seven children, and we struggled financially, with my mom working three jobs just to keep a roof over our heads,” she said. “I learned at a young age how to stretch a dollar and, as the oldest, I grew up fast to help support my family. I know what it means to work hard. My upbringing prepared me for working with diverse and small business owners who have experienced similar hardships.”

Varela’s task is peer persuasion. “To be successful, you must have buy-in from every division leader in the company,” she explained. “Supplier diversity isn’t a side project; it is a business strategy. That’s why I spend time building relationships and focusing on educating our Honda stakeholders and buyers on the importance of this work.”

At Honda, Varela is responsible for advocating for diverse and small business owners by providing access to opportunities at Honda. “I also work closely with Honda stakeholders and buyers who see the value in doing business with diverse and small business owners,” she added. Varela accomplishes this through supplier capability presentations and supplier diversity events. She also has regularly scheduled meetings within Honda and with potential suppliers, in addition to a bi-quarterly newsletter to educate and bring awareness to what her team is working on. “This work allows me to continue learning about different cultures, communities and what matters most to build a company that society wants to exist.” 

Honda believes that an inclusive and diverse supply base is good for our business and moves us toward our goals. To support this, North American Indirect Procurement initiated inclusion and cultural intelligence training and unconscious bias training for buyers to mitigate any bias that may have existed in the procurement process and practices. The division revisited its Request for Proposal (RFP) process to find ways to be more inclusive. Varela’s compassion is combined with gratitude and respect. 

“I am honored to be surrounded by many talented, diverse small business owners and amazed by their dedication,” she said. “When a diverse supplier obtains business from Honda, it’s a great feeling to see the ripple effect that one opportunity can have on other businesses.”

Going forward, Varela hopes that supplier diversity gains even more attention and importance. “Supplier diversity is more than the right thing to do, it is a necessary business strategy,” she said. “Diverse and small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They play a pivotal role in creating new jobs within their communities. Our suppliers are our customers.” 

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