07/29/2014 07:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Corporate Fraud of a Different Stripe

It's that time of year again. Corporate good-guy awards are handed out like candy by magazines with headlines screaming "Best Companies," for various groups -- usually minorities and women. Public relations shops in the chosen companies are working overtime cranking out press releases touting their dedication to diversity, and how they value female employees equally with the men.

Trouble is, the fancy words don't match reality. Too often their real purpose is to get the company on as many "best" lists as possible, and shower the magazines with advertising dollars as payment. A neat arrangement -- the company gets the kudos, the awarding publication gets the bucks. It's sort of like the deal between a prostitute and a john -- both know the rules, both get what they bargain for, and nobody gets hurt. Or do they?

Take the "Best Companies for Multicultural Women" list, this summer's entry from Working Mother magazine. Working women with kids will take the list seriously -- some may even change jobs because of it.

Looking behind the hype, we find the top rated companies aren't all that good for working moms -- multicultural or not. Most of the honorees pat themselves on the back for providing six weeks of paid maternity leave. But so few provide paid family leave to care for sick kids or aging parents Working Mother doesn't even score it.

Winners like American Express also fall short on pay and promotion. Though the company's workforce is 65 percent female, there is exactly one woman on the company's senior management list, and she is not multicultural. Walmart, 2014-04-01-yourvoicesmallest3.JPGanother winner, employs a lot of so-called multicultural women all right -- in low wage jobs that pay so little some are on food stamps. The largest pay discrimination suit in history was brought against the company, led by women of color.

Governance is another problem for the winners. Only four of IBM's dozen board members are female; one is African-American. Over at Cisco, the picture is even worse. The fifty-seven member leadership team includes a paltry eight females, and all are white except two. And Working Mother had to really lower the bar to tout the percentage of minority women who are top earners at companies on their winning list -- many firms got praised if they reached 6 percent.

Not all companies view women's progress and diversity so cynically, and not all on the "best" lists are bad companies. But too many of them are. So the next time you see one of those good guy awards, remember this: corporate fraud is not always financial.

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