182. Why the “Best Candidate Argument” is flawed

A minefield of emotions and dogma

Boards, Bores and Boredom


“We want to have a good mix of men and women, so we’ll make it a rule that our BoD must contain min. 40% men and min. 40% women.”

“Obviously, this is a bad idea! We should select the best candidate for the job. If we made gender an issue, then we might end up with someone who was LESS QUALIFIED. Quotas are horrible and we should never introduce them!”

Here’s why this is a misleading representation of reality

  1. We already have quotas. Whenever we talk about “the best candidate for the job”, we have already narrowed that field down quite a bit due to a range of factors;
  2. The best candidate who speaks the right language(s). The best candidate who is able to be at the meetings (easier in these Zoom days, but still tricky). The best candidate who is interested in the salary offered. The best candidate who is not working for a competing company (though this one is sometimes stretched a bit). The best candidate who is young enough (plenty of companies have an age limit for the Directors). The best candidate who is… you get the picture.
  3. Added to this list, we have a few more quite critical ones. The best candidate who hears about the job. The best candidate who is available (after all, people have commitments elsewhere!). And most importantly, the best candidate who actually applies for the position. So the whole “best candidate” concept is one with a pretty large number of built-in limitations. From our example before, Lars (our 9.6 candidate) might not even be in the Top100 on a Desired Candidate list, bur would still be #1 who applies.
  4. And with the “best candidate” concept starting to look slightly less impressive, the avalanche starts in earnest. Because while it’s definitely possible to score candidates on a 1–10 list and end up with Lars at 9.6 and Anna at 9.2, it’s also commonly accepted that this sort of scoring is imprecise at best. And even if it was hyper precise, deciding what to rate is an exercise in bias in itself.
  5. Because now things are going to get really annoying. Now, we’re going to look at Lars and Anna ans their fictional scores and rip them apart. Because the all-too-obvious truth is that those numbers are both contextual and relative…
  6. What does that mean? It means that if you have 15 people on your BoD that are all aged 50–65, male, white, uneducated, rich and Danish, then just getting one guy in there who is 28, poor and just finished his Ph.D is going to add a radically different perspective to the group. And that’s even if he is also Danish and white. Now imagine if just five of those 15 were replaced with people who were nothing like the rest and suddenly you’d see the meetings become melting pots of thought.
  7. And THAT is valuable. No one denies it. Hell, I get paid quite big sums of money to come into corporate centers of power and contribute BECAUSE I have a different profile than those who are already there. I have been asked to join boards BECAUSE of my different background, world view and expertise. I am invited to speak at events BECAUSE I am different. Diversity is valuable, whatever form it comes in.
  8. The thing is… diversity is contextual. In a room full of roleplayers, my roleplaying background (I used to own the world’s biggest live action role play studio) isn’t particularly interesting, but my McKinsey affiliation might be. In a room of lifelong banking execs, that same roleplaying background gives me some perspectives no one else has. In some rooms, my being a father makes me stand out. In others, not so much. THIS IS NOT ABOUT MEN AND WOMEN. It’s about variety, diversity and perspective.
  9. Now, leaving that for a moment, we already have plenty of places where there are quotas – not just implicit quotas, but explicit quotas. Some boards must contain a certain number of students, others a minumum number from specific geographical regions. The United States Senate is one of the most powerful examples of quota thinking, and that comes with its own sets of pros and cons. Ironically, that system is much beloved by quota-hating powerful white men as well, but I guess that just shows we as a group also can be flexible ideologically.

Final thoughts: quotas aren’t a silver bullet, but neither are they vampires

  • You will almost never get the best candidate for the job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get one, who is more than capable and will do a fantastic job.
  • Defining what “best” means is incredibly hard, but if you want to follow the science on what is best for your business, ensuring diversity should be a major factor.
  • If you still believe quotas are the devil’s spawn, then just call them “strong principles” instead. This doesn’t have to be about language, but should be about change. 🤠

I hold no illusions about my text being the best candidate for the job, but until I find something better, it’ll be the best right now. 😉



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Claus Raasted

Claus Raasted


Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey. Author of 34 books.