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How to climb up the corporate ladder in a tribalistic workplace on merit and competence [Tribalism]

Tribalism, Discrimination, Ethnicity, Racism.

By Ireoluwa Bello.

Business, Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship.
Oyemaja; How to climb up the corporate ladder in a tribalistic workplace solely on merit and competence

It is established that there is that human instinct to find shelter in one’s tribe in times of chaos or uncertainty. Many people see their tribe as an extension of their nuclear families. A stranger shows up and becomes your brother/sister solely because you are from the same tribe. This appears attractive until there is no chaos or uncertainty in a functioning multitribal society, but people will not look past tribal affiliations, especially in professional environments like the workplace.

A tribal company has its way of impeding career advancement. The constant workplace politics heightens the struggle to be seen or acknowledged for hard work and diligence; you might as well say goodbye to merit-based promotions. In some cases, not only will professional development be ignored, the management may jeopardise the success of projects to satisfy their tribal bias.

Despite the hostile workplace culture of tribalism, there are ways to slip by and achieve tremendous career growth.

These few tips might help.


Gone are the days when career growth is solely achieved in one organisation. The new trend is to jump ship as many times as possible, leveraging better offers at every new company. This style of career growth has shortened the career climb to the top for many.

The best way to achieve this is never to get comfortable until you reach your career peak. Work as hard as possible for your current company but do not make it a home; see it more as a stepping stone. Remember that a stepping stone must be solid enough to support your next step. It would be best to have a tangible work record, several achievements, and the ability to rebrand.

Another reason to leave a tribal workplace is the mental torture and frustration of being side-lined because of things beyond your control, like your tribe. It might be hard to start afresh in other places or secure another job, but tribalism in an unchanging workplace might end your career.

If, for any reason, leaving is not an option, there are still ways to beat the system.


Be an industry expert. Tribal bias has little effect on your work when you command the respect of your entire industry; they need you and would look past your tribe to have you on board. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it takes time to get to that level, but in the meantime, you need to work like you have something to prove because; sadly, you have something to prove.

In your current role, be the brain and muscle. Work the company so well that it becomes difficult to make crucial decisions without your input. Be so valuable that you become too hard to ignore. You don’t have to be better than everyone else. You just have to be indispensable. The best way to shut down bias is to be a force to reckon with.


Most tribes are popularly known for some specific character attributes. These stereotypes can be found in anyone, in or out of a tribe, but are fondly attributed to a particular group and are used to justify tribal bias. A guiding rule to beat the stereotypes is to ensure they never associate any popular negative character of your tribe with you. If your tribe is known for gossip, keep your lips sealed and be the archive of secrets. True that you have no control over their perception of your character but you can reduce it.

Oyemaja, Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship. Tribalism at the workplace
Oyemaja; How to climb up the corporate ladder in a tribalistic workplace solely on merit and competence.


It is tempting to also seek refuge in your tribe when tribally marginalised. You naturally tilt toward your superior or colleagues with similar tribes because of the rejection you might have experienced—the temptation to be loyal to what now feels like your side is heightened. To climb the ladder, you need to stay neutral. Allow your work to speak for you rather than the relationships you have built.

Their tribal bias must stop with them; don’t collect the wrong baton.


Be known for something other than your tribe. Whenever your name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind should not be your tribe. A careful way to pick an identity is to adopt something rare. It can range from a unique fashion sense to a caring nature. Pick one that is easiest for you and perform exceptionally; make it your second name tag. The logic behind this is to illuminate your unique personality and shift the focus of your tribal bosses and colleagues from your state of origin. Make them think of you more as a person rather than a group member.


Be grateful for every opportunity that comes your way. Act like you’ve been favoured, even when it is a right. It is hard to victimise a person that appreciates the littlest of things. Most tribal bosses or colleagues believe you should not have the job or occupy the position; chances are you got the job to fill a quota. Notwithstanding, the position is yours, so be grateful and express your gratitude. But gratitude is not the same as bootlicking.


All the above points borderlines finding ways to manage an already bad situation. The truth is that no one should have to brainstorm ways to adapt to such a hostile environment, and you should not have to. Instead of finding ways to slither your way to the top, you can call for a change. Many biased people do not want to be told they are biased; tell them and be firm. You can say, “I do not think there is any justifiable reason I should not be in this position,” and tell them to prove you wrong.

They might shy away from the confrontation, especially when you have done your work, but also note that you will not be a pushover.

Get that promotion, not for any sentimental reason but because you deserve it.

Oyemaja Executives


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