TopFem@The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Every month we'll be posting a summary of research that has been done by TopFem members as part of the Leadership Programme (formerly known as the Talent Programme). This month the summary research is done by Jetske Klein, who conducted research at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Traditionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its civil servants have had a special reputation. In the past, many believed that only ‘the few and the lucky’ – those with the right connections and not necessarily the right qualifications – could work at BuZa. The ministry was the place where the so-called “Old Boys’ Network” flourished. It is the traditional image of male diplomats drinking champagne and talking about their corps student years.

I took this ‘traditional’ image of BuZa as my starting point for my research. I wanted to find how the civil servants of BuZa had changed over the years and what was left of the “Old Boys’ Network” and this traditional image. I wanted to draw a comparison between the traditional BuZa civil servant and the modern civil servant. I realized that this was an extremely broad question, thus, I narrowed my research. I focused on the external reputation and image of BuZa, as seen by Dutch citizens; and its internal dynamics and image, as seen by its civil servants (long-time employees and trainees).

The first part focused on the modern image of BuZa. I designed a short opinion poll, consisting of 4 general questions (age; level of education; ethnic background; profession) and 2 specific questions, namely: “in your opinion, how transparent/open is the Dutch government?” and “in your opinion, which of the following ministries is the most aloof”? I randomly asked 30 people at Den Haag Central Station. Interestingly, 90% of the people believed that BuZa was the most aloof. The traditional image of BuZa was mentioned a couple of times as an explanation.

The second part of my research consisted of four in-depth interviews with (former) BuZa civil servants. The four interviewees were selected based on their expertise. In addition, I wanted to include the backgrounds and stories of four different generations of BuZa employees in the research. The questions were focused on age, study, student society, values and norms, career path, difference between generations, transparency of ministry, gender gap, and Old Boys’ Network. One of the interviewees had been the head of the re-organization of BuZa in 1978. He affirmed that when he started working at BuZa the “Old Boys’ Network” was very much alive. He did not believe that the “Old Boys’ Network” is still of consequence anno 2014. Another interviewee, who had been the head of the recruitment and selection department, made the same statement. She stated that the turning point came in the 80s, when the “doors were opened”. The ministry started hiring people with different studies and different backgrounds. The ministry is more open anno 2014, internally and externally. “BuZa has become a Haag’s Ministry. It used to be a closed club concerned with foreign affairs”.

The third part of my research consisted of a survey sent to BuZa trainees (the so-called “Diplomatenklasje”). The survey consisted of 18 questions; the trainees were asked about their background and their experience at BuZa. The aim of this survey was to find out how the new generation of civil servants perceived the ministry.

In the end, I was able to draw a general picture of BuZa across the years and generations. Much has changed, much has stayed the same. The Old Boys’ Network is finished, the ministry has opened its doors, and there is much interaction between the ministry, the academic world, and businesses. The ministry actively recruits people from all different backgrounds. It is a modern ministry for a modern time.