Samuel Olavo de Castro

Associate – Matthos Filhos

Samuel is a lawyer at Mattos Filho (an international Law Firm based in Brazil), an outstanding member and ambassador of Emfrente (Mattos Filho’s advocacy group for people with disabilities), and a member of Mattos Filho’s D&I Committee. Samuel advocates for people with disabilities within his work environment and externally. He promotes debates regarding the rights of people with disabilities, discusses the importance of combating ableism in business and how to facilitate the recruitment of people with disabilities.

1. In a nutshell, please tell us a little about your career journey until this point.

In 2012, I enrolled in Law School at the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie in São Paulo, Brazil. I started to work early in my career in order to pay for my tuition and assist my parents with their bills. So, during my first year, I secured my first internship in Tax Law.

In that period, I encountered the first challenge in my career related to my disability (clubfoot): the requirement to wear formal shoes. This was challenging as it was not easy to find formal shoes that fit me well; and wearing them for extended periods caused discomfort.

In 2015, I decided to leave the internship to do academic research on Public Law at Fundação Getúlio Vargas – FGV. This decision was crucial to my career development as it allowed me to discover my passion for regulation and administrative law.

After finishing my research, I went through a demanding selection process and was chosen to join Mattos Filho’s trainee program. Mattos Filho is a well-known and respected law firm in Brazil that is at the forefront of pro bono and D&I initiatives among law firms.

Today, I am honored to be a member of the Infrastructure and Energy team at Mattos Filho as an associate specialized in administrative law and energy & natural resources. More importantly, advocating for diversity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities through Mattos Filho’s advocacy group (Emfrente) and the Mattos Filho’s D&I Committee, together with other professionals, including the managing partner, Roberto Quiroga.

2. Who is your role model and why?

My parents, Elizabeth Balthasar de Castro and Valtair Olavo de Castro, are my role models. I am so grateful for all the effort they have put into finding a good doctor to help with my disability, as well as the money and time they have spent by my side at the hospital after surgeries on my foot and throughout physical therapy sessions.

During my childhood, my parents never placed limits on me based on my disability, and they always encouraged me to do everything I wanted to do. This support helped me push myself forward through challenges, despite all the difficulties I faced because of my disability.

Additionally, they taught me the value of hard work and making efforts to support the family, no matter what. Because of this, my parents have been inspiring me every day as I work to improve myself and give back them in the future all that they have given me until today.

“This support helped me push myself forward through challenges, despite all the difficulties I faced because of my disability.”

3. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what’s your greatest career achievement?

Prior to reaching the age of 25 (now 29), I did not consider myself a person with a disability. As someone who could walk, I believed that my disability was less severe than others’, and I was afraid of being judged based on my condition.

However, my perspective changed when I had the opportunity to gain more insight into what it means to be a person with disabilities, as well as the importance of participating in a D&I agenda. This transformation occurred when I joined Emfrente, Mattos Filho’s Advocacy Group. Through this group, I overcame my fear of judgment and accepted myself as a person with a disability. By witnessing the empowerment of my colleagues, I recognized my disability as a catalyst for engaging in D&I activities both inside and outside of Mattos Filho.

This new perspective prompted me to push myself to the limit and speak about my disability and self-acceptance. In this sense, I participated in various D&I initiatives that contributed to Mattos Filho’s recognition by the Instituto Rodrigo Mendes in 2021. This prestigious Brazilian institution has been promoting inclusive education for 25 years and honored our firm for its D&I activities and pro bono cases. Furthermore, my efforts towards the D&I agenda earned me a place on the shortlist for the “Diversity and Inclusion: Future Leader 2022 Award” by Chambers and Partners.

4. In a short sentence – what would you tell your 18-year-old self if they could see you now?

By accepting your true self, without regard for others’ judgments and discriminatory opinions, you can attain your fullest potential.

5. How has your personal journey shaped the way you navigate your career?

Through my personal journey, I have come to realize the significance of diversity in the workplace, the value of actively listening to different opinions, and the crucial role of teamwork. This perspective has been instrumental in guiding me towards building positive relationships and networks throughout my career. Furthermore, I strongly believe that fostering a healthy work environment is paramount, whereby colleagues can rely on each other for support and tackle day-to-day challenges together.

6. What is one myth or misconception surrounding disability that you want to see debunked?

I want to debunk the misconception that people with disabilities are unable to achieve the same goals as those without disabilities. Regrettably, many individuals, including government officials and corporate leaders, are unaware of or do not comprehend the concept of ableism as a social issue and how it manifests as discrimination. As a result, people with disabilities encounter numerous obstacles in their careers and, instead of receiving the resources to reach their fullest potential, they are often subjected to feelings of pity and neglect.

“Regrettably, many individuals, including government officials and corporate leaders, are unaware of or do not comprehend the concept of ableism as a social issue and how it manifests as discrimination.”

7. How has connecting globally with people in other countries/regions influenced your thinking or approach?

Since I joined the D&I initiatives sponsored by Mattos Filho, I have been talking with professionals from different companies and countries about the inclusion of people disabilities in the labor market. Connecting globally provides a platform to expand ideas and look at things from new perspectives. This exposure to different cultures, values, and beliefs enables individuals to gain a more comprehensive understanding of diversity and inclusion. Through these connections, I could share experiences and knowledges, gain insights, and collaborate to drive changes.

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?

One of the major challenges faced by people with disabilities in Brazil is access to education, healthcare, employment, and accessibility infrastructure. Brazil has made significant progress in recent years in terms of disability rights and inclusion, such as enacting the Brazilian Inclusion of People with Disabilities Act in 2015.

However, the implementation of this law has been slow, and many people with disabilities still encounter discrimination and obstacles when attempting to exercise their rights. Consequently, the community of people with disabilities plays a crucial role in advocating for the implementation of the law and ensuring the effectiveness of their rights through D&I policies.

9. What are two pieces of key practical advice that you would give business leaders and allies to drive disability inclusion in business?

Firstly, disability inclusion in business benefits both the employing institution that promotes them and the professionals who benefit from them. This is because people with disabilities benefit from personal and professional development, while the employing institution is strengthened as the professionals who benefit from these policies increase their sense of belonging to their work. Therefore, D&I policies have mutual benefits: they can help ensure greater social inclusion and positively impact businesses.

Secondly, it is essential to stimulate the breaking of paradigms and encourage creativity in developing inclusive policies that suit the universe of people with disabilities. The implementation of inclusive policies is a challenge for employers, not only from a human resources perspective but also in terms of financial resources. Ways to overcome this challenge are increasingly being discussed in the in business, particularly in large law firms. In these work environments, where formal behavior and distant communication are standard, awareness and sensitization on D&I agenda are necessary to break paradigms and find creativity solutions.