Nathalia Gomes de Oliveira
Senior Tax Lawyer – Mattos Filho
Nathalia is a senior tax litigation lawyer from Brazilian law firm Mattos Filho. Since 2020 Nathalia has been raising awareness regarding mental health topics and how to create a more sustainable work environment. This advocacy was only possible due to the existence of “Mind”, a specific program created by Mattos Filho back in 2019 in order to embrace professionals and address their needs regarding mental health matters. In 2022, Nathalia decided to take a step forward in this challenge and open to colleagues about being autistic, and, thus, becoming the first self-declared autistic professional within Mattos Filho. Later, by working together with Roberto Quiroga, CEO of Mattos Filho, as well as with the HR and Corporate Citizenship teams, it was possible to broaden the debate regarding mental health within Mattos Filho to the field of neurodiversity and, mainly, on how to embrace properly neurodiverse professionals. Thus, a new branch of the Mind program was created to address the debates and raise awareness for neurodiversity, which is a pioneer landmark in Brazilian Legal Market.
1. In a nutshell, please tell us a little about your career journey until this point.
As a neurodivergent person, I have spent most of my life deeply focused on certain subjects. Looking back now, it is clear to me that my career choices were driven by these areas of hyperfocus. However, it is interesting to notice that I was late diagnosed as being autistic, by the age of 24, and that I could not even notice how these hyperfocus were shaping my path.
In the first semester of Law School, I became fascinated with Tax Law. Even though I wouldn’t have a class on Tax Law until my eight semesters, I took it upon myself to study the subject on my own. I started digging into Tax Law and filled my days, weekends, and holidays poring over Tax Law materials, even reading up on the subject during my commutes on the subway and bus.
Brazilian Tax Law, in particular, is notoriously difficult to understand, by far one of the hardest Tax Law around the world, but I saw it as a puzzle to solve and relished the challenge.
When I was in the second semester of Law School, I was hired as an intern in a small tax litigation office. As I was very young, most of my job consisted not of studying or writing about tax law, but rather of going to public departments to solve simple things, such as filing appeals and consulting files. Nevertheless, during these journeys, I was able to continue studying, which was very beneficial.
One year later, I applied to an internship program at one of the largest law firms in Brazil and was accepted. This was one of the biggest steps in my career, as I was able to enter a world that was extremely distant from my reality and unknown to me and my family.
I come from a very humble background: my sister and I are the first generation in my family to attend university. My father works as a taxi driver, and my mother works as a secretary, so our social outlook has always been narrow and very simple, yet beautiful and precious. Thus, talking about “big law firms” was almost talking about extraterrestrial life and aliens.
Therefore, the multiple barriers to entering this world were significant: I did not know anyone, had no information about the context, and, until I entered Law School, I had never set a foot in a law office. Additionally, I did not have the slightest minimum clue about how to behave in this world and what was expected of me. It was an almost unattainable dream.
When I received the acceptance message, I was completely terrified. I remember spending the night before my first day in this office sobbing to my mother, expressing my fear and desire to give up on what I called “this delirium”. Fortunately, my mother managed to calm me down and convinced me to don’t give up on something I had worked so hard to achieve.
I am confident that I was only able to join a high-level office so early and without any background that could ease this access only because I studied Tax Law so diligently during those years. When I managed to enter this world, I realized that I held in my hands the unique opportunity of changing my life and the lives of my family for real. It was absolutely terrifying for a 19-year-old to realize the magnitude of what was happening.
But deep inside, I knew that I already had the solution of this new puzzle: I channeled all my efforts, focus, and energy into work, studies, and most importantly, understanding what this new world expected of me.
This last part was undoubtedly the hardest, because I could only learn it by reading the environment and trying to interpret social clues. Even now, I do not feel capable of saying that I have already mastered this skill; I am still learning by trial and error, sometimes succeeding, other times failing to see something that is right in front of me.
Against all odds, I managed to finish Law School, be hired as a lawyer at the office I had joined so early, complete my post-graduation studies, and later achieving my dream of joining one of the top-tier law firms in Brazil.
It has been 5 years since I joined Mattos Filho, and moving there was the best career decision I have ever made. Despite being one of the biggest and most meticulous offices in Brazil, known for the complexity of its matters and the excellence of its teams, I felt welcomed and embraced from my first weeks. I have met only gentle, tender, generous, open minded, and clever people. For an office of this magnitude, one might expect a competitive and hostile environment, but my experience has always been the opposite.
Mattos Filho’s leadership gave me the most precious gift I could ever had in my career: the freedom to be myself. I had no problems, no worries, no need to mask myself. I am comfortable and calm to pursue my dreams and to keep pushing into my special interests.
It was only through this environment that I could disclose my condition and to receive so much respect and acceptance, and being chosen to compose the Enable List now is so much more than I could ever imagine achieving.
2. Who is your role model and why?
Mattos Filho provided me with the opportunity to meet many unique and fantastic people, making it a tricky task to pick just one role model. However, I was able to select three inspiring individuals:
1) Glaucia Lauletta Frascino
Glaucia is one of the main partners in the office, responsible for the tax litigation area, and the most admirable model of leadership I have ever seen. Besides being a great lawyer, she is also a trailblazing personality in the legal field.
The word I would use to define Glaucia is “bravery”. Until today, the general legal market in Brazil is male-dominated, especially when it comes to leaderships. Nevertheless, Glaucia has started to break these barriers in a time that the only a few people paid attention to this matter, and, by doing so, she opened countless doors to other women.
Glaucia’s model inspires me to keep facing my own challenges and opening paths that once were unlikely for me to tread, not only because it is important to me, but also because I hope that my fights will pave the way for future generations.
2) Gabriela Silva de Lemos
Gabriela is one of the partners responsible for the tax litigation area. If I could pick up a word to define her, the word would be “tenderness”. Ever since I joined Mattos Filho, I have had the privilege of working closely to Gabriela, and it has been very important to me how I have always felt comfortable, accepted, and appreciated working with her.
But Gabriela became a person of so much importance to me not only because she values my strengths, but also because she knows my flaws, challenges, and difficulties, and treats them with respect and kindness. Furthermore, Gabriela helps me to overcome these obstacles, not by trying to change them, but by extracting the best from them, especially when I am unable to see the glass half full.
It is not a coincidence that Gabriela was the first person with whom I felt able to unveil my condition – she is actually my safe haven in the office. All of these achievements would not have been possible without her sensitivity and empathy – without these qualities, I would never have had the courage to open up in the office.
3) Renata Correia Cubas
Renata is one of the main partners of Tax Area, who has always worked actively and tirelessly to elevate Mattos Filho’s Tax Area to a position of excellence. From observing Renata’s work, I believe that the most appropriate word to describe her is “visionary”.
I feel that Renata has always believed in the power of inclusion and generosity. She is at the forefront of many initiatives at Mattos Filho aimed at opening doors and providing opportunities to people. For instance, she is the sponsoring partner of “Soma Talentos”, an initiative created in the office with the goal of providing more opportunities for non-white talents. Renata also represents Mattos Filho on the Board of Legal Alliance for Racial Equity. Additionally, she is the creator of “4women”, another initiative in the office aimed at addressing sexism and prejudice against women in the corporate environment.
In 2022, Renata was named one of the to 50 advocates around the world on the Empower List of Involve Role Models.
Renata is my role model because I aspire to someday promote inclusion and extend a helping hand to others, just as she does with tenderness, commitment, and responsibility.
“Her model inspires me to keep facing my own challenges and opening paths that once were unlikely for me to tread, not only because it is important to me, but also because I hope that my fights will pave the way for future generations.”
3. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what’s your greatest career achievement?
I think that my first internship in law was really remarkable. When I realized that I had interest in Tax Law, I started to look for internship in this field, and I was hired by a small tax litigation office during my second semester of Law School. However, I had no idea what a law intern did, as I said before, I had never stepped into a law office. All I remember from this year is feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t understand anything of what was going on around me: I didn’t know how an office was supposed to function, how I was expected to behave, how I should navigate between colleagues and bosses, or what topics were adequate to discuss with the team. I was lost.
Since I was very young at the time, most of my job consisted of doing the so-called “outside work”. There was no “digital law proceeding”, so everything had to be handled directly at the Public Agencies. This meant that I spent my time filling appeals, consulting files, and talking to court clerks. Since lawyers and older interns were more qualified to do the “internal work”, such as writing and rehearsing, my job was solving simpler things by the streets.
Unfortunately, I only discovered all of this when I was already working. Until them, I naively believed that all I would do was reading, studying, and writing about Tax Law. My job primarily consisted of talking to unfamiliar people throughout the day, asking them for their services, persuading them, and creating bonds with them. In short, all that was expected from me to succeed in this task was using soft skills. However, these skills are a challenge for autistic people. Sometimes, we lack very basic social skills, such as reading social cues, making small-talk, or even knowing which tone to use in each interaction. While most neurotypical people learn these skills at a young age, we, instead, have to learn them rationally and consciously, in such way that we spend our lives observing the world, training, learning from others, and mimicking their behavior.
To cut a long story short: I had to learn this new set of abilities from the scratch, and I needed to do this in real time. When I look back to that year, it feels like I was traveling in a country without knowing the language or the habits of its inhabitants. It was by far the loneliest year of my life, not because there were no people around me, but because I was absolutely alone trying to understand a new world. I had no one to talk about my anxieties, my doubts, my insecurities, or to vent about my innumerous flaws at that time. It was just me versus a brave new world.
What’s even crazier is realizing that I was only 19 years old at the time. My diagnosis came later, only when I was 24 years old. Until then, I carried this overwhelming feeling of not-belonging, weirdness, and inability to live in this world. I couldn’t understand why I had difficulties on doing things that were so easy to most people, such as chatting or bonding with others. On the other hand, I also couldn’t understand why I succeed in doing high complexity things that most people found challenging. I was facing an enormous challenge without even knowing why it was so challenging. I had no tools to deal with my condition and I didn’t even know that I had a condition. I didn’t know that there is a biological explanation for all this difficulty, and there are ways to circumvent them. I thought that something was terribly wrong with me, that I wasn’t born to do that, or, in fact, that I wasn’t born to do anything a functionable working adult should do.
Fortunately, things eventually worked out: I found passion in Tax Law, I managed to enter this world, and I connected with people., Suddenly, more than 10 years have passed since then, and it is amazing to note that all the risks, all the difficulties, all the uncertainty were overcome. I actually doubted that I would make it this far, and, even now, I sometimes doubt whether I will make it any further.
But then I am reminded of the Japanese practice of “Kintsugi”, which involves repairing broken objects, especially pottery, with gold amendments. With this, Japanese culture teaches us that flaws, scars, imperfections, accidents are not something to hide, or even worse, something that renders the object worthless. Instead, after being broken, the object becomes even more precious because someone managed to extract the best from the breakdown: adversities are treated with respect and tenderness, and the flaw becomes gold, making something beautiful and precious.
Regarding my greatest achievement so far, it is actually being included in this list. Looking back five years ago, it was unimaginable to even disclose my condition in my work environment. Having the opportunity to disclose it and, above all, to become a world reference in the cause, it is extremely far beyond anything that I could ever imagine.
4. In a short sentence – what would you tell your 18-year-old self if they could see you now?
One day, things will stop to hurt this much.
5. How has your personal journey shaped the way you navigate your career?
I believe that my most precious asset for my career is resiliency – I am persistent to the point of stubbornness. In my opinion, if I weren’t in the autism spectrum, I would never have this level of resiliency.
Living with a socially non-privileged condition, such as disability, ethnical/sexual/social minority, or having mental health issues, means carrying a heavier burden. We must walk a thousand miles more to get to the same places as other. What comes naturally to others must be conquered with much more effort by us.
Those in the autism spectrum are the most patient learners in the world: we spend our whole lives observing and learning from others, mimicking, adapting to change, systemizing information, and trying to navigate a society grounded in verbal communication. We never get used to a world that is full of noise, color, and smell, and we face many other challenges.
Therefore, I have always known that things don’t come easy, and nothing is guaranteed in life. I am accustomed to deal with difficulties, failures, rejection, mistakes, and long terms learning, because I know that the key to overcoming them is simply not giving up.
Much of the suffering in the workplace arises from the fact everyone, at some point, will face an unexpected adverse condition, frustration, or feel rejection. The point is: career – like everything else in life – is a path that is not only composed of victories, happy days, achievements, success, and recognition. Actually, it is a path formed by most days being filled with work, dedication, and discipline in order to experience a minority of glorious days. However, the journey is not about winning; actually, it is about not giving up and knowing that falling is inevitable. What matters most is how we rise after every fall, not the fall itself.
6. What is one myth or misconception surrounding neurodiversity that you want to see debunked?
There are numerous misconceptions surrounding neurodiversity, particularly autism, but the one that hurts me the most is the notion that autistic individuals people lack empathy. In reality, it is the opposite: we have an abundance of empathy; we may simply struggle to demonstrate it in a conventional way.
Society often perceive autistic individuals as being emotionally detached, lacking in empathy or tenderness. However, we often experience emotions so deeply that it can lead to an overwhelming sense of distress. As a result, we are not predisposed to deceit, concealment, or insincerity. This inability to mask our emotions is often our Achilles Heel.
So, when we express our feelings, we do so honestly and authentically. When we care or concern about something or someone, it is genuine, and our love for people and things is unconditional. When we advocate for something, we do so with unwavering passion. When we mourn someone else’s loss, it becomes as painful as our own. When we place our trust in something or someone, our loyalty is unwavering. Thus, if there is one thing that is abundant in the world of autism, it is empathy, sincerity, and commitment.
“If there is one thing that is abundant in the world of autism, it is empathy, sincerity, and commitment.”
7. How has connecting globally with people in other countries/regions influenced your thinking or approach?
This is a project for the future that I am wager to undertake. I have a strong desire to connect with individuals and organizations who are committed to the cause of neurodiversity. I have observed that many other countries are more advanced in discussing and implementing policies related to neurodiversity within the workplace. However, in Brazil, this topic is still surrounded by misinformation, taboo, and stigma. Thus, I believe that we can benefit greatly by studying and learning from the experience of other countries that are some steps ahead of us.
I am thrilled about the opportunity to join the Enable list as I believe that it will facilitate this connection with others who share my passion for promoting neurodiversity in the workplace.
8. How do you think driving inclusion in your country or region differs from other parts of the world? Are there unique challenges or opportunities?
Unfortunately, Brazil suffers from severe misinformation regarding neurodiversity and autism. Most people are not even familiar with the term “neurodiversity”. It is apparent that this misinformation starts from a young age – it is still uncommon to find schools with qualified professionals who are capable of identifying and addressing autism and other forms of neurodiversity.
This is evident in the way that Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is viewed by the majority of schools as undisciplined, irresponsible, and inattentive behavior, instead of recognizing and praising their strengths, such as creativity.
When it comes to the work environment, the situation is not different. Therefore, our main mission in Brazil is to first educate people about neurodiversity. But there is hope, as looking back ten years ago, people were not properly educated regarding including minorities. They were not adequately aware about the challenges faced by non-white people, LGBTQIA+ people, women, or even the impact that mental health has on everyone’s lives. So, I have genuine hope that out fight is just beginning and that ten years from now, this debate will be normalized, and misinformation will fade away.
9. What are two pieces of key practical advice that you would give business leaders and allies to drive neurodiversity inclusion in business?
1. Pay close attention to our strengths, instead of our difficulties: Neurodivergent people are often more skilled in many valuable aspects than neurotypical people, such as focus, depth, loyalty, resilience, creativity, thinking “outside the box”, paying attention to details and patterns, memorizing things, and so much more.
2. Respect our differences and peculiarities: We do not need “fixing”, nor we are “broken” or “inadequate”. We don’t mean to be rude when we are just being objective, and we would greatly appreciate clear, transparent, and direct communication. Our idiosyncrasies are not a reason for jokes. Keeping this in mind, the work environment will become a much more sustainable place not only for us, but for everyone.