Member Profile: Sonya Bradley, Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The past few years have created a more intensive focus on DEI—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—across industries and communities throughout the state. Visit Sacramento has taken its commitment to the next level, creating a new position dedicated to DEI, naming its former chief marketing officer, Sonya Bradley, as the first Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion last April.

For Bradley, it was a new experience both personally and within the industry.
“I took this role knowing it didn’t exist in other DMOs on the West Coast,” she said. “Big corporations have people in this role, a lot of times in the HR department, but it has never really been talked about in our industry.”

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The organization’s President and CEO gave Bradley a free hand to design and develop the role, in the wake of a number of high-profile killings of Black people by police.

“The May 2020 death of George Floyd opened up a lot of discussion here about racial equity,” Bradley said. “It drove us to see what we were doing as an industry and an organization.”
At the same time, Visit Sacramento was dealing with the pandemic shutdown and its effect on the city’s tourism industry. There was a huge need to find ways to help hotels, restaurants, and cultural activities survive the economic losses—and the organization knew that would extend across the entire city.

As a result, Bradley led a move to extend the organization’s focus from the downtown/midtown core, home to conventions and the majority of hotels, to neighborhoods beyond. Visit Sacramento began to create or strengthen ties with neighborhood groups, improvement districts, and local DEI committees, connecting with them one-on-one to understand the vast range of cultural and neighborhood resources available to visitors. Bradley said that Visit Sacramento saw that as both a way to make the organization more inclusive as well as create a different and more diverse visitor experience.

“A lot of DMOs focus on downtown or midtown, but your community is much more than that, and we wanted to figure out how we can get more of our city involved in tourism and share our broader cultural resources,” she said. “So, we are connecting with those communities, trying to meet them and understand the great local and cultural assets we should promote, and help them be successful.”

One of the main focus areas for the effort revolves around Sacramento’s annual “Farm to Fork” month, which focuses on the agricultural bounty of the Central Valley and how it contributed to the food and wine scene in the city. It is the city’s largest festival as well as a signature fundraising event, yet traditionally has focused on restaurants, chefs, and producers in the core city, never reaching the many vendors in outlying communities.
“It’s been well received, but it hasn’t always felt inclusive to some people,” she said. “We wanted to intentionally and proactively bring in different people and give them opportunities to participate in our festival.”

Visit Sacramento worked in partnership with Bank of America to create a vendor impact grant intended to increase the diversity of participation in the festival. Open to vendors who self-identify as people of color or LGBTQ, the program awarded ten winners the funding for a booth at the festival that they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

“These were vendors that often, most of the community didn’t realize existed,” Bradley said. “It really gave them an opportunity to be part of this event, not only to have extremely busy booths, but also to get business from companies they met at the event. In fact, some of those vendors are coming back to this year’s festival, and they now can afford to pay their own fees.”

The next big step for Bradley’s DEI work is to increase the amount of internal DEI education and skill development inside the organization. The sessions will cover concepts like what privilege means, race and social justice from a variety of perspectives. “It’s not just for someone’s personal development,” she noted, “It helps us interact with the diversity of visitors to Sacramento.”
Her advice to other organizations in hospitality and tourism that want to develop their own DEI efforts is simple: just make the commitment to start something, to find one area you want to seek to improve, even if it’s low-hanging fruit. And, crucially, ensure that commitment starts at the top.
“This is not checking a box. It does not happen, it does not succeed without leadership,” she said. “Your leadership doesn’t just have to buy in, they have to participate, and not just the CEO, but your board as well.” 

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