Power in the workplace depends to a significant extent on which people has access to what information, and a tyrannical boss can assert dominance by controlling that access. Writing from her own experience with bosses who deliberately shut her out of decision-making and withhold information from her, Margery Weinstein at Training Magazine wonders whether this sort of thing happens to women more often than it does to men:
Access to information is what people need to advance and prove themselves. When employees are brought into important conversations early, they have the opportunity to contribute ideas and influence how plans are implemented. When they are brought in at the last minute, they are left in a helpless position. The decisions have already been made, and the plans are in place, with the employee’s job at that point to just smile, nod, and say, “Yes.”
Are there any patterns to the people at your company who often are left out of the conversation during the planning stages? … There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a pattern across the corporate world of male employees being granted greater access to information earlier than their female counterparts. Much like women having less chance of not just asking for a pay raise, but of actually getting one, information access is another tool that can be used to keep a person in her place. It may not be something companies are consciously doing, but it may be an unconscious prejudice that makes it more likely male employees will be told earlier in the planning process about business decisions that will affect their work lives.
I haven’t researched gender disparity in access to information, so I can’t speak to that point, but there’s no question that such access is a key differentiator of performance. In CEB’s research into what makes an effective global leader, we found that the most important type of support that HR can provide to these leaders is information about their markets and their organization, because global leaders are often working far from the organizational center and with little knowledge of the market. The impact of information was twice as important, on average, than even the team you managed for your individual success.
It’s not a stretch to say that information is equally valuable in just about every other context. And HR can play a key role in providing that information—by facilitating its distribution, for example, or getting groups involved in decision-making processes that typically aren’t in the room. If Weinstein’s suspicions are correct and managers really are keeping women out of the loop, that’s not just demoralizing and discriminatory; it’s likely hurting both those women’s performance and that of the enterprise as a whole.