Ruchika Tulshyan | What can we learn about great-place-to-work reviews? A commitment from the top matters.

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I always take lists ranking the “top companies for women” with a grain of salt. It’s easy for companies to PR their way to portraying a great image of their work culture, while behind the scenes, it’s a different story.

But if there was a way to find out what women really experience — off the record — I would be all ears. That’s why when Microsoft landed 10th on a list of best companies for women, as scored by reviews from its female employees, I was intrigued. Fairygodboss, a site that operates like Yelp for women’s experiences, surveys women anonymously about their company.

More than half — 57 percent — of the 209 reviewers on Fairygodboss said Microsoft treated women fairly and equally to men. And 67 percent would recommend the company to other women. By contrast, at Amazon, which did not feature in the top 10, only 38 percent of respondents said men and women were treated equally. One third of female Amazon employees said they would recommend working there to other women.

So what was so special about Microsoft?

Georgene Huang, a co-founder of Fairygodboss, tells me: “Many of the reviews for Microsoft are nuanced and paint a company that (a) is not perfect, but (b) is really trying to improve.” According to Huang, women mentioned company initiatives to improve everything from the promotion of women to increasing family-friendly benefits.

I was especially heartened by the number of reviews that pointed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s commitment to making a change to improve the experience of women. After his gaffe at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing conference in 2014 of telling women to rely on their “karma” to get pay raises, a number of anonymous reviewers said Nadella has been driving change to create a fairer workplace for Microsoft’s women.

A CEO’s commitment to equity is “not always very common,” Huang tells me. “It shows that the female employees at Microsoft recognize that strides are being made and that there’s a commitment to change from the top.”

Indeed, senior management’s commitment to equity emerged as the key commonality in companies I interviewed for my book; many varied in industries, geography and size, but all had a track record of treating its women fairly. When CEOs and leadership teams focus time, money and commitment to creating a fair workplace for all, gender equity moves from a “nice to have” to a business strategy. One notable example is Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s commitment to study the wage gap at his then-16,000-person company, and then spending $3 million correcting it when he found disparities. The company ranked fourth on the Fairygodboss list.

No company has achieved complete gender parity yet. But diversity must be a top-down, organization-wide strategy to effect change. As reviews from many of Microsoft’s female employees can attest — that becomes a significant contributor to women staying and thriving at those companies.

Ruchika Tulshyan is an author, speaker and journalist. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website