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At their wits’ end? How divorced women cope with workplace harassment in Sri Lanka

Arosha Adikaram (Department of Human Resources Management, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 12 September 2019

Issue publication date: 12 September 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine how and with what reasons, divorced women respond to harassment they face at work, within a patriarchal culture of stigma and prejudice about divorced women. This inquiry will be performed by integrating stigma-management and identity-management research with research on responding to and coping with harassment.


Using qualitative research methodology, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were carried out with 12 divorced working women.


Findings of the study illuminate the manner in which stigma management interacts with harassment coping/respond mechanisms in dynamic ways, leading to complex response strategies for divorced women, which can be broadly identified as stigma-focused response strategies and harassment-focused response strategies. A strategy typology – consisting of seven major quadrants and nine major strategies therein – is thus provided, explaining how divorced women struggle to maintain their identity and manage stigma while coping with harassment.

Practical implications

The paper point towards the need for organisations to be mindful of the struggles of stigmatised individuals in coping and responding to harassment, and their distinct situations and experiences in developing and implementing interventions such as training, awareness creation and policies on harassment.


While research on reaction to harassment is abundant, how divorced women – as a stigmatised and marginalised group of individuals in society – cope with harassment at work is almost non-existent. The present study fills this gap by exploring harassment responses at the nexus of stigma and identity management.



Adikaram, A. (2019), "At their wits’ end? How divorced women cope with workplace harassment in Sri Lanka", Gender in Management, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 489-509.



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