In partnership with our Diversity & Inclusion Council, we are commemorating Black History Month by amplifying black voices within our company. Our purpose is to instigate conversations and introspection to drive understanding, so that understanding can serve as a foundation for our company going forward.
Jay Boykin, Gogo’s vice president of Accounting/Corporate Controller, a senior level leader in our organization and member of our Diversity and Inclusion Council, shares his experience and challenges as a black man in the workplace, the influential forces of family and tradition, and what you can do to be an ally. Jay believes that positive learning and positive change rarely takes place in a comfortable space, so we encourage you to read his responses and reflect on the role of diversity and inclusion in your life and career.
Gogo: Can you share what your current role and responsibilities are with Gogo? What led you to a career at Gogo? How long have you been with the company?
Jay: My official title is Vice President of Accounting/Corporate Controller. I report directly to the SVP/Chief Accounting Officer, and my responsibilities include leading a team of 18 people responsible for all areas of accounting for the company. We are also responsible for billing and collecting every penny of service and equipment sales for the company.
I came to what was then Aircell almost 11 years ago in February of 2011. I joined the company as a Senior Financial Analyst. At the time, I was the only analyst, and our Finance team was only half a dozen people. In all honesty, I came to Gogo because my manager at my previous company kicked me out of the nest! In all seriousness, this mentor of mine heard about the opportunity at Aircell and directed the recruiter my way. Sounds crazy, right? She encouraged me to look at the opportunity for what it COULD BE, and not for what it was at the time. She knew she could not put me on a path for growth where we were, and she did not want to hold me back. I guess you can say I came to be here because someone saw a potential that perhaps I did not see in myself at the time.
Gogo: As a leader in our organization, and someone who has been here for several years, in what ways have you seen our company grow, change, or progress?
Jay: There are so many ways that the company has grown and changed over the years. We have grown revenue, we have grown the number of employees, and the company has gone through many transformative moments that I was happy to be a part of. It was my first-time being part of an effort to take a company public. We have also seen the company mature in our processes. We have had some great leaders to help us improve how we develop products and services, produce, and distribute those products, and how we support our customers using those products and services. It seemed like every year we were doing something else new that helped us to be who we are today.
We have also recruited some amazing talent to Gogo. The people and relationships have been the single biggest reason that I have stayed here for 11 years, which is the longest tenure at any company in my career.
Gogo: What does it mean to be black in corporate America today?
Jay: This is a very interesting question, and honestly one that I never thought I would answer in a forum such as this. I have been in my career for nearly 35 years, which is crazy enough to think about. I have worked in local government, small private companies, and very large companies with 30,000 plus employees. Not once in my career was there someone in a leadership position that looked like me. Not middle management let alone the C-suite. Looking at some of the statistics today on black CEOs and executive level leadership for American companies, not much has changed.
When I think about my place as a black man in corporate America, I feel I have a responsibility to stand up and to perhaps be a role model to someone in a way that I did not have when I was early in my career. I have had the privilege to mentor some amazing individuals throughout my career. People of all backgrounds, races, genders, and ethnicities. That said, I have a strong desire to play a part in the continued Gogo story, and to be the role model for that young black man and woman looking to work for a great company like Gogo.
Gogo: What has your experience in the workplace been as a black individual?
Jay: I have had a great career that has given me opportunities to work for some amazing companies, but there was a big price to be paid at times. I have experienced many microaggressions before that term was a thing. I remember during an interview for a position at a company (not Gogo), I sat in the reception area with another man who was apparently competing for the same position and happened to be white. The hiring HR person, someone I had spoken to on the phone, came out and walked right over to the other gentleman, and said “You must be Jay! Welcome!” When I stood up and indicated she had the wrong person, her expression was very much one of surprise. Once back in the interview room, she apologized and indicated she had never met a black man named Jay. She also complimented me on how well-spoken I was. I was offered that job, but I turned it down.
Over the years, I have had people touch my hair without permission. Yes, I have hair, I just choose to shave it! I have been told that I am not like other people of my race. I have been mischaracterized as being angry when I am not. Probably the most frustrating is being mistaken for another individual who was also a black man. There were only two of us at the company at the time, why can you not get our names right?
Gogo: Recognizing that our families comprise a mixture of identities, how has the idea of “family” been a driving force in your life and/or career?
Jay: The concept of family is such an interesting one. I think most people focus on their blood relatives, but as we lean in on this topic, we all have those bonds that we call family that include not only our blood relatives, but also many other influential people in our lives. I love my family and have had some amazing influences on my life. I have a strong family story on many fronts and have honestly just started scratching the surface on my ancestry. Those who know me know that Louisiana is my home. My maternal side of the family, with deep roots in Louisiana, probably shapes my worldview more than any other. I have learned recently that my great, great, great, great grandfather George H. Jackson was the son of a white man, George Jackson, and an enslaved woman he purchased. George H. Jackson settled in Louisiana around 1824 in St. Landry Parish, and so that is where my Louisiana roots begin. Other segments of my ancestry have deep Mulatto, African, and French-Creole origins, so a very diverse ancestry. How does that concept of family drive me in my life and career? There are some amazing stories in my ancestry of strong, hardworking people who overcame many obstacles. Many of these individuals experienced and fought to make their communities a better place. I want to continue that legacy in my career and all aspects of my life.
Gogo: Is there a family tradition that is special or important to you?
Jay: As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of diversity in my family, especially my family that is rooted in South Louisiana. We love to eat, and with that comes my love for cooking. I was taught by my mom, my Mema (100-year-old grandmother), and others how to cook. I love taking the things they taught me and making them my own. My wife enjoys my cooking most of the time! Making a great dish often means messing some things up that don’t always taste as planned! My favorite recipe to cook is gumbo. Gumbo has a rich tradition and history that dates to the early 1800’s, if not earlier. With ingredients like chicken, sausage, and shrimp, gumbo brings many different ingredients together to create a rich, bold, flavorful experience. Gumbo reminds me of my family, my friends, and my culture. I love sharing with others through recipes the foods and flavors that have always been part of my life.
Gogo: Do you have any black heroes? Perhaps lesser-known figures that you admire?
Jay: Great question. I love learning about the contributions of black people, especially those that fly under the radar. My mom recently shared one with me; Otis Boykin (no relation that I am aware of) who as an inventor had 26 patents in his name when he died. Another favorite, given our aviation background, is Bessie Coleman who was the first black woman to hold a pilot license. The great thing about her story is she could not attend flying schools in the United States because as a black person she was not accepted. To overcome that, she taught herself to speak and read French, and moved to France to learn to fly.
Gogo: What does it look like to be an ally? Are there things people could do every day to put this into practice?
Jay: To be an ally, people do not have to attend every protest, call every government official, or respond to every social media post they see. That said, take a small step. Read a book about black history. Watch some different shows on your streaming platform of choice. Most important, be open to engaging in a dialogue with someone of a different race and/or worldview. Be open to the conversation and embrace the differences. Each of us, if we are open to it, can learn and grow from diversity.
Gogo: Do you have recommendations or resources for continued self-education on black history, the black experience, or related topics?
Jay: For those that choose to educate themselves on black history, or any area of diversity and inclusion, the resources are everywhere. Books, podcasts, documentaries, or whatever your preference may be, the resources are there. My biggest recommendation is for each of us to open ourselves to something new. Much like some meal we are trying for the first time, just be willing to experience something new. It is likely to generate some internal feelings of being uncomfortable, but that is what we must embrace. Positive learning, and positive change rarely takes place in a comfortable space.
Gogo: In what ways can companies support their employees and further support social justice?
Jay: Social injustice is not new, but 2020 had too many deadly events that exploded the topic like a powder keg. There has never been a time where companies have an opportunity and responsibility such as this to stand up and push for change. I feel that doing nothing has never been riskier for companies. I read an article recently that identified over $1 Billion in initiatives sponsored by some of America’s largest and most brand recognized companies. Walmart, Nike, Google, Amazon just to name a few. Companies have significant economic leverage to push for change. Examining purchasing practices to see if there are diverse businesses (including black and women owned) that we can support, looking at recruitment practices, investing in educational programs are but a few. While economic influence is significant, I believe the most important thing corporate leaders can do is acknowledging social injustice is real, and that it is worth fighting for.
Gogo: What is your personal definition of diversity?
Jay: I think of diversity as more than just percentages and metrics. We must have these to measure progress and to set goals, but diversity is more of a mindset. I believe diversity exists when we do not have to hide our differences, but we can embrace those unique things that have made us who we are. When we can be accepting of those things that make us all unique, and we can learn from those differences to make our world, our company better. I want the opportunity to expand my worldview, and the only way to do that is to embrace those with a different one. When we can have that safe place to be ourselves and learn from each other; that is what I believe the definition of diversity is.
Gogo: What would make Gogo feel like a more inclusive place to work?
Jay: I am very proud of Gogo leadership, specifically with the direction of people like our CEO, CFO and Chief People Experience Officer. Since early 2020, , I have had some great conversations with each of them on this topic. I know that there is genuine commitment to improve Gogo in this area. We are not always going to get this right, and it will not always feel comfortable. We need to embrace the opportunity to have the conversations about diversity. We have to create an environment where all employees feel they have a voice in the decisions that impact their work, where individuals feel accepted and valued for who they are and are able to feel connected to that common cause of making Gogo great. We must create a sense of belonging, and intentionally focusing on promoting diverse ideas and perspectives.
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