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SVP Partner Moment: Peter Mortifee on Unconscious Bias

Posted by SVP Vancouver
A group of about 20 SVP Partners and staff met at our home on January 30 to hear Alden Habacon engage us in an exploration of ‘unconscious bias’. Alden has dedicated his professional life to identifying, exploring and disrupting bias while promoting and advancing diversity and inclusion throughout our society. He graciously offered his presentation to us ‘pro bono’.

It was interesting to hear Alden say that the positive impact of ‘bias trainings’ is usually about 48 hours – that’s too bad given that our gathering was already two weeks ago! It was a provocative evening and I’m still reflecting on what took place, and wanted to offer the following reflections.

I feel uncomfortable about the fact that there can be gaps between the intent of my actions and their impact based on my unconscious biases. Alden helped me to see that unconscious bias exists within me as an individual as well as within systems that I am engaged with. Becoming aware of such biases can be a confronting and uncomfortable experience, particularly when they are at odds with how I think I am.

I believe that as SVP Partners, we share a deep desire to affect positive social impact. Our recent session raised some potentially challenging questions, not only for me personally, but for SVP as a collective. What individual and collective biases might be at play within ourselves and within our SVP community such that if we were aware of them, the gap between our intentions and our impacts would be lessened?

For me, exploring such a question includes requiring a willingness and ability to be vulnerable. So this all got me reflecting on our culture and its impact on both me as an individual and the systems that we have created. Cultures that systematically acknowledge and support risk taking, being vulnerable and exploring biases may thus be considered by some to be desirable. If so, what could we do, both individually and collectively to shift the culture of the SVP community in such a direction? I’m grateful that the SVP community is willing to engage in such a dialogue and I’m sure we all share the same desire to reduce any gaps that may exist between our intentions and our impacts.

Peter and Nancy Mortifee joined SVP in 2017 and generously hosted our first dialogue evening in 2019. They have a long history of involvement with social innovation and wellbeing both in Vancouver and around the world.