American Century Investments of Kansas City, Mo. has earned the honor of being the only predominantly mutual fund adviser to be named one of the top 100 companies for working mothers by Working Mother magazine.

Working Mother magazine announced the winners of its 15th annual "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" competition on Sept. 5. Each year, the magazine evaluates employers based on family-friendly benefits as well as on companies' policies aimed at advancing women.

Besides American Century, companies in the mutual fund business which made the list for the first time included Goldman Sachs and New York Life Insurance Company, both of New York.

Companies in the mutual fund business that made the list both this year and in the past included American Express of New York, AmeritasAcacia Mutual Holding Company of Bethesda, Md., parent to the Calvert Group of funds, Bank of America of Charlotte, N.C., Bank One of Chicago, Chase Manhattan Bank of New York, Citigroup of New York, Deutsche Bank of New York, First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., J.P. Morgan & Co. of New York, Lincoln Financial Group of Philadelphia, Merrill Lynch & Co. of New York, MetLife of New York, Northern Trust Company of Chicago, Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Company of Hartford, Conn., and Prudential of Newark, N.J.

The Vanguard Group of Malvern, Pa., has not made the list since 1998. A Vanguard spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment.

This is the first year that American Century had entered the Working Mother's contest, said Julie Bartels Smith, a spokesperson for American Century. It had done so hoping to determine how its family-friendly policies stacked-up against other companies' policies. It was surprised to find itself among the outstanding companies, she said.

American Century develops benefit programs by first assessing the needs of employees, said Bartels Smith. The company annually surveys employees to identify needs and several of the company's senior executives meet throughout the year with randomly chosen employees to assess their needs, she said.

In a survey conducted in the spring, 73 percent of American Century employees sampled said their top need was for "financial security" and learning how to save for their children's college education and their own retirement, said Bartels Smith. Next in order of importance , 56 percent of employees said they needed a balance between work and home life. In particular, they expressed a need for flexible hour and childcare. They also said they needed help with the challenges of traveling. Personal development was the next most important need expressed by the company's employees, said Bartels Smith.

As a result, several new benefits aimed at helping employees balance life and work will be made available to employees later this fall, said Bartels Smith. She declined to provide details of the benefits.

American Century currently offers flex time schedules which can include employees working four 10-hour days, or adopting early start/early departure schedules or late start/late departure schedules. Bartels Smith, a high level director at the company, said she works part time each day.

For new mothers, American Century offers six-weeks paid maternity leave. The company also offers four week paid leave for new fathers. The firm also offers a $5,000 grant to help employees offset the cost of adopting a child.

There is a tangible payback for these policies, said Bartels Smith. The firm is very close to meeting its goal of a 90 percent employee retention rate, she said. Furthermore, American Century has seen a correlation between happy employees and the quality of service provided to its shareholders, she said.

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