Setting Professional Boundaries: Your Guide to Addressing Unwanted Advances

By:  Juliene Hefter, Executive Director/CEO, MSOLQ,
Association of Aquatic Professionals


While I was an exhibitor at a conference, a coworker asked me a disturbing question: “What can we do within our industry to address the issue of women being uncomfortable by someone providing them with inappropriate attention during social events?” His worries were sparked by an event in which a female guest was harassed by a male colleague who later broke into tears. Regretfully, this situation is not unique. It reflects a more significant problem in personal and professional relationships that must be addressed.

Recognizing the Extent of Sexual Mistreatment

Sexual harassment is a widespread issue that impacts both genders in a variety of contexts, such as social gatherings, workplaces, and conferences. Although the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of the problem, this article focuses on offering doable solutions to stop and deal with such conduct, with a strong emphasis on civil and professional relationships.

Personal Experiences and Observations

When I think back on my experiences, I remember having a stalker during my sophomore year of college. I had no memory of this guy, but he called and said we’d met at a party, which is how the whole process started. He persisted in harassing me in spite of my obvious refusal, which ultimately resulted in his incarceration. I learned the value of setting boundaries and asking for assistance when I needed it from this early interaction.

Throughout my career, dealing with unsolicited approaches was a common aspect of attending conferences. I once staged a relationship with a male coworker to ward off nagging admirers. This reciprocal assistance demonstrated how important it is to have allies when facing difficult circumstances.

Addressing Inappropriate Behavior

Addressing sexual harassment should begin with having a direct and open line of communication with the harasser. People frequently don’t understand their actions are improper. Here are some doable actions to take:

  1. Express Your Discomfort: Tell the other person that the things they are doing are causing you discomfort. A straightforward “I feel uncomfortable when you say/do that” can work wonders.
  2. Establish Boundaries: Firmly instruct them to cease if the conduct persists. Make it apparent that their behavior is inappropriate by using plain words.
  3. Remove Yourself: To protect your safety and well-being, get out of the situation if it continues.

If these steps do not resolve the issue, it is crucial to escalate the matter:

  1. Report to Authorities: Let supervisors or event planners know about the harassment so they may take appropriate action.
  2. Involve Law Enforcement: To make sure the conduct stops and the offender is held accountable, it could be essential to file a complaint with the police in extreme circumstances.

The Bystander Effect

An intriguing factor associated with sexual harassment is the “bystander effect,” which states that people are less inclined to speak out when others are around. This may result in inaction while someone is in need of assistance. Being aware of this influence might make us more vigilant onlookers:

  1. Put intervention into practice: Take part in low-stakes activities to gain confidence in dealing with improper behavior.
  2. Refocus Conversations: Stop conversations that are going off-topic by using expressions like “Let’s get back to the topic at hand.”
  3. Request Clarification: Press the Speaker to reconsider their words by pressuring them to explain their meaning in response to unsuitable remarks.
  4. Take Action: It’s critical to react in a way that tackles the issue, whether that means speaking out, shifting the topic, or leaving.



Effective Prevention Strategies

Several successful tactics for avoiding sexual harassment in work environments are suggested by research and best practices:

  1. Clear Anti-Harassment Policies: Creating and disseminating explicit anti-harassment rules is essential to establishing a harassment-free workplace. These guidelines should include a clear definition of harassment as well as instances of inappropriate conduct, such as bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination. In order to ensure that staff members are aware of who to contact and what to do next, the policy should explicitly specify how complaints should be reported and handled. To emphasize how severe the policy is, it is also necessary to outline the punishments for violations. It may be emphasized how important it is to regularly make this policy available through employee platforms, handbooks, and physical posters.
  2. Regular Training and Education: To educate staff members on sexual harassment awareness and prevention, regular training sessions are essential. These classes ought to involve identifying various types of harassment, comprehending consent, and picking up intervention strategies. Interactive, captivating, and specifically designed to meet the goals of the company are all components of effective training. More training on how to stop and deal with harassment inside teams should be provided to managers. Refresher courses should also be planned on a regular basis to ensure that all staff members are informed of any changes to policies and to reaffirm the significance of upholding a respectful workplace.
  3. Encourage Open Communication: Establishing a setting where workers feel at ease talking about harassment-related matters is crucial. Employers should promote open communication by reassuring staff members that their issues will be treated with respect and discretion. Managers’ routine check-ins can aid in the early detection of any problems. Stressing a non-retaliation policy might help further motivate staff members to report issues without worrying about consequences. In addition to assisting in resolving issues before they get worse, open communication also promotes a climate of respect and trust.
  4. Leadership Commitment: Establishing the tone for behavior at work is mostly the responsibility of the leadership. Supervisors and leaders need to provide an example of polite conduct and show that they are committed to stopping harassment. This may be accomplished by upholding professionalism, objecting to offensive remarks, and encouraging diversity and inclusiveness. Ensuring that resources and support mechanisms are available to swiftly and effectively handle issues of harassment is another aspect of leadership commitment.
  5. Bystander Intervention Programs: Bystander intervention programs can enable staff members to take action when they observe harassment. People should learn from these seminars how to safely step in and assist people who are mistreated. Recognizing harassment indicators, developing intervention techniques, and emphasizing the value of helping victims are all topics covered in bystander intervention training. Companies may create a proactive and encouraging work atmosphere by providing workers with these abilities.
  6. Regular Policy Reviews: It is crucial to carry out routine evaluations to guarantee that harassment rules continue to be applicable and efficient. This may entail conducting focus groups or surveys to get input from participants and staff. Periodically reviewing the rules guarantees conformity with current legal standards and assists in identifying any gaps or opportunities for development. Participating in the review process with important stakeholders, including HR specialists, legal professionals, and employee representatives, may bring a variety of viewpoints and improve the efficacy of the policy.
  7. Establish Reporting Mechanisms: Having several reporting channels that are simple to use is essential for dealing with harassment in an efficient manner. These can include direct connection with designated HR staff members, private hotlines, and dedicated email addresses. It’s crucial to ensure that every report is carefully considered and looked into right away. Encouraging workers to come forward and ensuring that their concerns are addressed with care and discretion may be achieved by shielding them from retribution when they report harassment.
  8. Assist Victims: An organization’s anti-harassment policy must provide assistance for harassed individuals. Providing victims with options such as therapy and legal support can help them deal with the psychological and emotional effects of harassment. It’s also critical to guarantee protection against retaliation and to provide precise instructions on the complaint procedure. Organizations may enable victims to take action and contribute to a respectful workplace culture by creating a supportive atmosphere.


By putting these thorough procedures into place, we can contribute to the creation of a secure, welcoming, and respectful work environment for all workers. These policies are kept up to date and in compliance with legal requirements and best practices through regular assessments.

Personal Stories: Learning and Growing

Later in my life, I witnessed another incidence of unacceptable behavior while I was presenting at an international conference. During dinner, one of my fellow speakers made suggestive remarks, which I quickly addressed by leaving the area and alerting the event organizers. Their disdainful reaction, which blamed his actions on drunkenness, highlighted the necessity of taking a more aggressive position against harassment.

Another instance included a coworker who was uneasy at a social gathering because of a married man’s approach. After hearing her tale, I understood how critical it is to stand up for one another and promote a polite workplace.

Creating a Culture of Respect

Everyone is involved in fostering a respectful society. Whether you are a spectator, an organizer, or an attendee, what you do affects the atmosphere as a whole. Here are some ideas for cultivating a respectful culture:

  • Be Aware: Exercise caution and spot warning indications of harassment.
  • Support Colleagues: Provide assistance to coworkers who could be the victims of harassment. It may sometimes make a big difference to know that someone is looking out for you.
  • Speak Up: Let others know if you see improper behavior. Your action can stop things from worsening and make it clear that this kind of conduct is unacceptable.
  • Educate Yourself: Keep up your knowledge on the ins and outs of sexual harassment as well as practical solutions.


We must work together to solve the problem of sexual harassment. We can all work together to make the atmosphere safer and more polite by establishing clear limits, communicating effectively, and showing support for one another. Organizations must be proactive in establishing guidelines, offering instruction, and helping victims. As individuals, we are obligated to speak out, take initiative, and cultivate an environment of respect in all our dealings.

By implementing these tactics, we can ensure that harassment doesn’t cast a shadow over our personal or professional lives and that there is mutual respect and decency. Let’s pledge to be watchful observers, encouraging team members and proponents of an atmosphere free from harassment.

Juliene Hefter is the Executive Director/CEO of the Association of Aquatic Professionals and holds a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Quality. She is dedicated to promoting safe and respectful environments within the industry.

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Juliene Hefter

Juliene is the Executive Director/CEO of AOAP. She has a background in running and operating diverse aquatic facilities and venues and is a national and international speaker on a variety of topics. She is also an expert witness/consultant.

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