- On September 29, 2022
The power of diversity shines in a culture of inclusion, where differences are valued and encouraged. Common values are the foundation, but different perspectives and behaviors lead to new understanding, ideas, and growth.
Erby Foster (1954-2022)
It’s been 3 weeks since I heard the news of the unexpected passing of Erby Foster, a dear friend, and colleague for many years. Erby was a unique individual who impacted my life and that of my family. Our work together when he headed Diversity & Inclusion at Clorox will be remembered with great pride. The Cultural Fluency work [we did together]transformed the ERGs (Employee Resource Group) there and they couldn’t have done it without his working closely with h each of the teams. Over the years, we shared many meals together, and many laughs. He was like an older brother to me, often called me a “Seoul sister.” We shared many stories about growing up in our own ethnic communities. When we visited northern California, he came out to meet me and my kids and took us around SanFrancisco. They still remember that day spent with “Uncle Erby” with great fondness. His work life is where he made the biggest impact. Always going above and beyond on the job, he showed a real passion for people. For Erby, these relationships weren’t an added responsibility that came attached to a corporate director-level position, they were the entire reason he was there. He’d say, “I’m just a vehicle that can help others succeed.”
Because a big part of his job was about building relationships with external organizations and encouraging ERG engagement, he constantly sought out opportunities for business connection. One Asian American leader credits Erby with broadening his view of diversity and helping him understand how the ERGs strategically while connecting with them on a personal level. “When I attended an event and talked to him, it became clear that his vision wasn’t just an Asian, Black or Latino initiative, or LGBT. It was more about how to bring your whole self to work and use that to grow the business initiative. That was a new view for me.”
As a fluent leader, Erby was able to see the ABCs of employee resource groups and connect them to larger growth opportunities. “In just a few years our ERGs have quickly moved from promoting cultural awareness to developing talent, to becoming trusted advisers, to being recognized as business advocates.” His insights were golden when we interviewed him for FLEX – The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences. Whether it was connecting with diversity goals or individual careers to company growth, Erby could really shine. He fluently tied diversity to business outcomes, tying in individuals, employee resource groups, and outside associations until it made sense for everyone involved at the company level. I don’t think I’ll fully understand the impact of his loss for some time. The saddest part was my not being able to see him for 3 + years as a result of the pandemic. What he showed us, the many people who have been mentored and loved by him, is that we are meant to give our lives in the service of others. In the work of leadership and diversity/equity/inclusion, we want to honor his life by getting out there and passing on the wisdom of what we learned from his example; building bridges across racial and cultural lines and shining a light. Some work colleagues and clients become friends, and still others become like family. Erby, you were family to me. We will miss you.