Interview with Karin Bosman on Bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace (Tips for employers and HRians to consider)

Interviewer: Ahmed Saadalla

“From my heart, please speak-up in the earliest state of the (sexual) workplace harassment.” – Karin Bosman

Karin Bosman from Netherlands is the founder of About Workplace Harassment (AWH), international speaker, experienced expert and politically active on the topic sexual workplace harassment. She speaks from her personal experiences and ongoing study to encourage people to speak and stand-up against sexual workplace harassment by acting on it. With her lectures, workshops and trainings she creates awareness, which is needed to understand the process of sexual workplace harassment. How bystanders can affect this process in a positive way and that the effect of the harassment doesn’t stop at the victim but continues in companies and organizations.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  What is workplace bullying and workplace harassment and what are their types?

Karin Bosman: First of all I want to point out that the problem of sexual workplace harassment is both serious and wide spread. Sexual harassment and bullying is rampant in our society. While the public is curious about it, most people are unaware of just how common it really is and that sexual workplace harassment only occurs to women is a misconception.

There are two types of sexual harassment,

  1. Quid Pro Quo (This for That /or Favor For a Favor).

  2. Hostile Work Environment Harassments

In fact,  Quid pro quo means that supervisors use their position in the company to get away with offensive conduct. For example, a superior tells an employee to be cooperative or he/she will get fired, a Supervisor will give you a raise if you go out with him/her, and that they will get a promotion in return for sexual favors. Quid pro quo is always about the abuse of power. Men and women mostly think the same about quid pro quo, both consider this as sexual harassment.

 In fact, Sexual harassment is prohibited regardless of the sex of the parties.


HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  From your opinion, What are the roots of workplace bullying and sexual harassments?

Karin Bosman: The root of workplace harassment is multi factorial in nature ranging from personal factors to organizational and societal factors. Understanding the complexity and subtlety of workplace harassment is pertinent in the effort to prevent or curtail it.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  Despite many measures to tackle the issue, workplace bullying persists. How to establish a culture free of bullying?!

Karin Bosman: Yes, it’s indeed true that there are many measures to tackle workplace harassment but there is also still a big taboo on (sexual) workplace harassment. Employees, victims /or bystanders are not being encouraged to speak-up about workplace harassment. Furthermore, victims of workplace harassment have to deal with emotions of fear, humiliation, and low self-esteem. Another aspect why workplace harassment, especially sexual workplace harassment, increases is because despite rules, regulation and laws against it there is a lack of awareness and enforcement.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  An employer should have a sexual harassment policy that clearly explains to all employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by any employee, supervisor, coworker, customer, contractor, or anyone else who conducts business with the employer. What to include as an employer in the sexual harassment policy?

Karin Bosman: Some of the essential elements of a written harassment policy ( both for men and women(  are that this policy should include:

  • A strong opening statement on the organizations stance on sexual harassment,

  • An outline in the companies objectives regarding sexual harassment,

  • A clearly worded definition of sexual harassment

  • Examples of sexual harassment that may be relevant to the working environment

  • A statement of what is not sexual workplace harassment,

  • Examples of places and times where unlawful sexual harassment may happen e.g. in the office, work conferences, work field trips etc.

  • The consequences for employees if the policy is breached, responsibilities of management and staff, information on where individuals can get help, advice or make a complaint,

  • A brief summary of the options available for dealing with sexual harassment.

  • Translate the policy into relevant company languages when required so it’s accessible to all employees.

Furthermore employers need to know in advance how they will approach a complaint on sexual workplace harassment


HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  When dealing with workplace bullying, those raising allegations and the accused ones report suffering similar anxiety and distress, express concern that they suffer particularly in terms of health and wellbeing. From an organizational best practice, how do you think an organization can deal fairly with such scenarios?

Karin Bosman: The effects of workplace harassment are for victims, bystanders, other witnesses and the accused is something we should not underestimate. Also HR managers and/or counselors who are handling the complaint filing are sensitive to the traumatic experience that victims share. You have to think of psychological reactions like depression, frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, anger, fear, isolation, guilt, lethargy and self-blame. But there also effects at the workplace such as decreased job satisfaction, loss of job or promotion, withdraw from work, change in career goals, and loss of income.

Besides having a good and implemented harassment policy, employers should also have a good internal system for dealing with complaints of (sexual) workplace harassment. With the harassment policy and complaint procedure employees not only will be encouraged to report cases of workplace harassment but also help preventing it from occurring. The important thing in reducing the harm for all parties is to take all complaints seriously and to treat them confidential. Make sure that the complaints are dealt with consistently and in a timely manner.

Monitor the complaint procedure and beware that the complainant is not being victimized. Victimization means that a person is subjected to a disadvantage because of being involved in (sexual) harassment complaint, for example an employee is being moved to a lower position with lesser responsibilities while the complaint is being considered. So an organization or company is dealing fairly with complaints of workplace harassment by having good-implemented procedures that will protect all involved parties.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  What is the best strategy to stop sexual harassment? Does the fact that most women ignored the harassment or avoided the harasser mean that these are best? Should the harasser be confronted by the employee before the top management?

Karin Bosman: In general, the best strategy to stop sexual harassment is by creating awareness and having enforcement. Most women (and men) ignore the harassment out of fear, shame and self-blaming. Because of the fact that (sexual) harassment cases can be very complex and not one situation of harassment is the same it will depend on the circumstances what will be the best strategy. Although most of the time it would be the best thing to do, you can imagine that confronting the harasser can be very difficult for the victim of the harasser. The humiliation of the harassment makes it very hard for a victim to speak-up, especially when the victim is being emotionally blackmailed about the consequences of speaking-up.

From my own experience it took me 2 years to break the silence of violence. When the harasser is a superior or the employer, like in my case, victims often feel caught in the web of harassment. It’s not easy to trust anyone, even family, friends, colleagues, let alone the HR managers or counselors. Of course it would be an ideal situation when the victim or a bystander will confront the offender about the harassment or search for help via the informal complaint procedure, meaning that the victim can ask a supervisor for advice on how to approach the offender or let the supervisor speak with the harasser on his/her behalf. In that case the supervisor can refer to the harassment policy and explain again that offensive conduct will not be tolerated. So it depends on the case of the harassment which strategy will be the best. Who is the harasser, is it the superior or employer then it’s most likely to file a complaint via the formal complaint procedure, is the harasser a co-worker an informal complaint procedure can be sufficient. Furthermore, is the harassment itself also of influence on what the best approach will be!!!

Important to know that research shows that in 42% of the workplace harassment cases, the harassment immediately stops after confronting the harasser or filing a complaint.


HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  Some employers see the potential for sexual harassment in socializing especially in friendly organizational cultures, how to establish a control in this case?!

Karin Bosman: Corporate cultures are also of influence, like I have said before sexual harassment is multi factorial ranging from personal factors, and organizational factors to societal factors. But a friendly organizational culture is not a greater risk factor for sexual harassment, tolerating offensive conduct (of a sexual nature) in that culture, for example, will create a hostile environment. But offices, which have a poor lighting or no windows/transparency, can be a space in which harassment will occur more easily like during work field trips, organizational parties, conferences … etc. The rules and regulation of sexual harassment policy and complaint procedures will be in force, because we call these outside the office work related activities in employment.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  As technology grows, organizations tend to use new applications that support their roles. Also whistleblowing and reporting incidents became mostly online to adapt to the new change. From your experience, what do you think about using a mobile application to report harassments in the workplace as a control measure?!

Karin Bosman: From my experience I know that there are a lot of complaints that will not be filed just because the complainant/victim doesn’t know whom to turn to or doesn’t feel comfortable enough with the appointed person, harassment officer, HR manger or counselor.

AWH ( has developed a smartphone application, which will make it easier to report complaints of (sexual) harassment.

The benefit of this application is that it is a recordkeeping where evidence will be more trustworthy and easy to gather. With this application there is less room for rumors and hearsay. The complaint filing can be handled in a timely manner, which will protect all parties from victimization and minimize the harm suffered by the victim. And this application will help the employer to take remedial action.

Governments should also use this technology/application to encourage and help employees who are not being protected by their employer through harassment policies and procedures to file a complaint. Labor inspection should do the follow-up and make sure these complainants are not being victimized.

We still don’t know how many people are being harassed in the workplace simply because the people who are being harassed are too afraid. With all the knowledge, rules, regulations and laws to protect (sexual) workplace from happening it only seems to increase, I think that’s because we aren’t aware enough about the effects of (sexual) workplace harassment and what it is and that we don’t use the available enforcement.

 HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  Finally, what is your advice to employees regarding bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace?!

Karin Bosman: From my heart, please speak-up in the earliest state of the (sexual) workplace harassment. It can minimize the harm people are suffering from being harassed. Speak-up as victim, bystander but also as manager before even a complaint is being filed when you see a colleague is crossing the line and behavior becomes unwanted behavior. To HR mangers and counselors take all complaints seriously and treat them confidential, keep your professional distance but make sure that the experience of the victim is placed in the center. Remember that less than 1% of sexual harassment complaints are false.

For employers, preventing harassment in the workplace requires a considerable investment of time and personnel. In the end however, significant savings in legal fees and health-care costs will offset these costs. Companies will also benefit from increased worker productivity. A company only stands to gain if it takes a no-nonsense, hard-line position on (sexual) workplace harassment. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.

Remember !!!

Five simple steps to prevent (sexual) harassment in your workplace

  1. Get high-level support

  2. Write and implement a sexual harassment policy

  3. Provide regular training and information to all employees and management

  4. Encourage appropriate conduct by managers

  5. Create a positive workplace environment

Also, AWH provides training all over the world, the personal sexual workplace harassment experience helps to motivate people and to understand the theory to make sure you draw line between unwanted and wanted behavior.

HR Revolution Middle-East Magazine:  Thank you kindly for this fruitful interview.

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