The new boss of the Confederation of British Industry has apologised to the women whose claims of sexual harassment were not taken seriously by the organisation until they went to the press.
Rain Newton-Smith said she wanted to express “how profoundly sorry I am for how our organisation let you down”, as she took over at the under-pressure lobby group.
It comes after more than a dozen women who worked for the CBI told the Guardian newspaper they had been victims of sexual harassment. Two women claimed they had been raped.
“You will have heard about the crisis that has shocked and saddened us all at the CBI,” Ms Newton-Smith tweeted.
“I want to recognise the courage of the women who came forward and say how profoundly sorry I am for how our organisation let you down.
“I hope to reward your bravery by finding a better path forward.”
The new director general faces a battle to reform the group after many questioned the wisdom of appointing a CBI insider to the top job.
Technically she joined from Barclays where Ms Newton-Smith had been managing director for strategy and policy, sustainability and ESG.
But she took that job only last month. Before then she had served as the CBI’s chief economist for close to nine years.
While few questioned Ms Newton-Smith’s credentials, her status as a CBI insider caused murmurs among members.
Members did not directly criticise her appointment on the record, but speaking anonymously to reporters some said that appointing an insider so quickly was not likely to bring about the changes needed.
The decline of the CBI started in early March when the Guardian newspaper published accusations of misconduct against then director general Tony Danker.
A month later the newspaper published another article saying that more than a dozen women who worked for the CBI had approached it claiming they had been sexually harassed by colleagues.
One woman said she had been raped.
Days later, after outside lawyers had concluded the first part of their report into the CBI, Mr Danker was fired and Ms Newton-Smith was announced as the new boss.
Mr Danker later hit out at the CBI, saying he was the “fall guy” and that his reputation had been “totally trashed”.
Members were already becoming concerned at this point, and the Government started to wind down its engagement with the lobby group.
But the final straw came last Friday when the Guardian published a second allegation of rape and a new allegation of stalking against CBI staff.
Within hours, Aviva, one of Britain’s biggest insurers, said it would cancel its membership of the CBI.
This opened the floodgates and by the end of the day dozens of the biggest companies in the UK, including Tesco and John Lewis, had walked away.
Later that evening the CBI decided to suspend all policy and membership activities.
Ms Newton-Smith now faced a tough task. On Monday, CBI president Brian McBride made a series of promises of reforms at the organisation.
The changes that will be made are set to be discussed in June at a meeting of the CBI membership.
“We know there is so much to do to win back the trust of our members, our colleagues and wider society,” she said on Wednesday.
“But I believe in the work of the CBI and our people, and I am determined to rebuild and reimagine our organisation to regain that trust.”
On Monday Mr McBride said: “We have asked Rain Newton-Smith to be our director general, and she has shown great courage in accepting this position at a very difficult time.”
“Many of you know Rain personally, and have welcomed her return.
“We asked Rain to return to the CBI, not only because of her very considerable economic and policy expertise, but because the employees of the CBI deeply trust and respect her.
“Supported by others, Rain will lead the changes necessary at the CBI. I’m profoundly grateful to her for stepping up at this time.”