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Bob Moon: Working Mother magazine releases its annual list of 100 best companies tomorrow. The list recognizes employers with parent-friendly policies, like paid family leave and flex time. There are dozens of lists like these: best companies for diversity, best law firms for the left-handed . . .

Just kidding about that one. But how much can you really judge about an employer based on some award in a magazine? Marketplace's Amy Scott looks into that question.


Amy Scott: Companies spend a lot of money and time trying to get on lists like Working Mother's. It's great PR and helps them attract talent. HR departments devote hours to collecting data and filling out questionnaires.

Sometimes, they even hire consultants, like Debbie Phillips with WFD Consulting. She says she often hears from companies who want help getting on a list, or maybe they've fallen off and want back on.

Debbie Phillips: We don't guarantee at all that they will get back on a list, but there are areas where we can certainly help them.

Like advising them on childcare or flex-time programs.

But how good are these companies for working women, really? Of the 100 best last year, eight of them didn't offer any fully-paid maternity leave. Two award-winners didn't offer paid leave at all.

Martha Burk is with the National Council of Women's Organizations:

Martha Burk: What we did find is a lot of bragging about 12 weeks of unpaid leave. But what they don't tell you is that the federal government requires that of any company that employs 50 or more people.

Then there's the cozy relationship between award-winners and the magazine. By Working Mother's own calculation, 65 percent of the winners buy advertising. Many of them sponsor the annual awards dinner.

Carol Evans is CEO of Working Mother Media. She insists there's no quid pro quo.

Carol Evans: Not that we won't ask you to advertise. Because it's a real opportunity for companies to get their commercial message out right in the same environment where they're also getting a very strong editorial message.

Evans believes the competition to get on Working Mother lists has helped "move the needle" on women's issues. When the list started 22 years ago, employers scored points for offering on-site dry-cleaning. Common perks offered today, like paternity leave, were almost unheard of back then.

But critics say jobseekers should view these lists skeptically. A few years ago, Morgan Stanley paid $54 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit. As part of its defense, the company cited its place on Working Mother's 100 Best.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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