updated 9/25/2006 3:48:34 PM ET 2006-09-25T19:48:34

Working Mother magazine released its annual list of the top 100 places to work, with its chief executive touting an improvement in mother-friendly benefits in corporate America.

Working Mother CEO Carol Evans, who authored the book “This Is How We Do It: The Working Mothers’ Manifesto,” said that in order to retain female employees, a growing number of companies are offering customized schedules.

“There are some very, very creative ideas, and this is all related to what we saw in the past, with women dropping off the edge of a cliff, when they said it’s either working full time or not at all,” Evans said.

This year’s list includes 18 new names, representing some churn, and the magazine cites growing concern among companies that they will lose qualified female employees if they do not upgrade their benefits.

“Our country needs women to have babies, our companies need women’s brainpower and time,” she said. “Those two things going together really demand that companies wake up to this new culture.”

The magazine used five main criteria as the basis for its judgments: flexibility, leave time for new parents, child care, elder care and the number of women occupying top jobs.

The top 10 companies that best satisfied the five criteria were:

  • Abbott Laboratories
  • Bon Secours Richmond Health System
  • Ernst & Young LLP
  • HSBC USA Inc.
  • IBM Corp.
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Patagonia Inc.
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP
  • Principal Financial Group
  • S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.

IBM and Johnson & Johnson are the only companies that have been on the list every year since it was initiated 21 years ago. IBM offers new mothers the option to take up to 144 weeks of leave, Evans said.

The Boston Consulting Group is one of 18 companies new to the list, for which the magazine solicits applications that consist of 550 questions. Among the consulting group’s benefits are three months of paid maternity leave and emergency child care.

Julie Gish, a 31-year-old project leader in the Chicago office of the consulting company, credits the maternity leave and flexible work policies for easing her work life after the birth of her son Charlie, who turned 1 on Saturday.

Gish took the three-month paid leave and an additional six weeks of unpaid leave before she returned to work on a 60 percent basis. Since then, she has increased her working time to 80 percent, and said she is grateful for how accommodating the company has been.

“They do that because they recognize that while women may need to take time out in their careers, it is certainly in their interest in the long run to offer flexible working arrangements,” Gish said.

Gish said she plans to have at least one more child, and that after her children start school, she plans to go back to work full time.

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