Work and identity are often strongly intertwined. For Steven Del Gaizo, he gets to be his authentic self while working on what he loves. In his current position at General Motors, he focuses on developing new autonomous technology that has the potential to enable GM's vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. Del Gaizo is a design release engineer who specifically works on sensing technology for self-driving vehicles.
"We are leading the way for autonomous technology and I'm grateful to be a part of it," said Del Gaizo, who is openly gay. "Knowing that my work is contributing to a better future is a satisfying career opportunity. On a day-to-day basis, I work with various teams inside and outside the company to develop this technology."
The car, known as the Cruise AV (Autonomous Vehicle) was built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver. GM engineered safety into the vehicle in every single step of design, development, manufacturing, testing and validation.
"With its advanced sensor systems, the Cruise AV has the capability to see the environment around it, in 360 degrees, day and night. It is designed to identify pedestrians in a crosswalk, or an object darting suddenly into its path and to respond accordingly," said GM's 2018 Self-Driving Safety report. "It can maneuver through construction cones, yield to emergency vehicles and react to avoid collisions."
Del Gaizo spoke with BTL about his work on the autonomous vehicle, what he enjoys most about his job and what it's like to be out in workplace.
How long have you worked for the company?
I've been with General Motors full time for almost six years now. I started working with GM as an intern during undergrad and graduate school. I had various positions within the design studio, vehicle integration, thermal analysis and aerodynamics teams. I've been in this self-driving vehicle role for six months now. Before this new role, I worked on optimizing aerodynamics for electric and autonomous vehicles. For me, it's important that I have a passion for my job, which is why I'm excited to be working in the autonomous division.
Are there specific parts of the autonomous vehicle that you work on?
Right now I have been focused sensing technology for self-driving vehicles, specifically lidar. It is an interesting field and every day I learn something new. As a team, GM is ensuring that all our autonomous technology is designed with safety at the center.
What do you enjoy most about working with cars at GM?
One of my favorite things as an aerodynamic engineer was working with the design studio. As an engineer it's easy to get caught up on small changes sometimes, but when you walk into the design studio, everything is about looks and emotion which helps put things into perspective. Now, in the autonomous role, I love the innovation and problem solving challenges. Over the years I've been able to get over 10 different patents for new inventions I've made. It's exciting and rewarding work.
Tell me something interesting or unique about the work you do?
One of the greatest moments in my career so far was my work as an aerodynamic engineer. I remember walking into the design studio one day and seeing my computer-generated aerodynamic images being used as inspiration for future vehicles. Seeing my work directly impact designs of the future is a great feeling and very rewarding. That same feeling and emotion will come for autonomous when I take my first driverless ride, knowing that I played a part in enabling it.
Have you always been out at work?
Yes, I came out right around the time I first moved to Michigan. For me, it was essential that I be able to be out and my whole self at work. Being out at work was not immediate, it was a process as I grew more comfortable with myself. Now, I feel like I finally found my way, I've gotten over my personal fears and I am able to mention my life and sexuality without a second thought at work.
What is it like to be your authentic self while working at GM?
I have had nothing but positive experiences. I don't have to make up stories on the spot about what I did on the weekend, I can mention my boyfriend and my life outside of work freely. It's little things that you do to cover that you don't realize become so exhausting over time and take a toll. I'm thankful that I can be my authentic self at work and I encourage everyone to do the same as long as you feel safe doing so.
Considering people are discriminated against and have been fired from their job because they identify as LGBTQ, what would you say to a future GM employee who identifies as LGBTQ about the environment there and perhaps why they should feel comfortable being open at work?
I actually got this question a lot recently as I was recruiting for GM at an LGBTQ conference, Out for Undergrad. GM has gone a long way at protecting and establishing policies for LGBTQ employees. We have had a non-discrimination policy in place and before marriage equality, (and) GM recognized same-sex partnerships and offered benefits for them as well. While I was an intern at GM, an employee transitioned in the workplace. We had an HR meeting to educate employees about transsexuality and brought in an employee to talk about her transition in the work place. As a gay, closeted man at this time, this helped me see firsthand how GM supports LGBTQ employees. Eventually, this co-worker and I became good friends and she was the first person I came out to at work. This is why I think it is important to be your authentic self, you never know who else is closeted and needs support or help coming out.
Describe your role with GM Plus?
I joined our LGBTQA employee resource group, GM PLUS three years ago. This last year I joined the board as the education and training chair. I lead a mentor group specifically for LGBTQA employees. Along with that, I coordinate and schedule workshops to educate employees on how to be inclusive with our partnership with PFLAG. This year we had our first out executive town hall where leadership who identifies as LGBTQ hosted an open forum and talked about their experiences within GM. Right now we are really trying to engage and reach out to our allies because allies are vital for creating inclusive environments and championing LGBTQ issues. We also do recruiting and represent GM at a number of LGBTQ-themed conferences around the country throughout the year. Along with that, we are focused on helping our community here in Detroit as well. Cadillac was a sponsor at Ruth Ellis's annual fundraising event, VOICES, and we work with them throughout the year and have GM employees volunteering at their center.
Learn more about General Motors' approach to safely putting self-driving cars on the roads in 2019 online at gaybe.am/4r.