Why So Few Female Champions?

by David Brooks

1990 World Champion of Public Speaking
Austin, Texas

Of all the questions I am asked about the World Championship of Public Speaking, perhaps the most common, and the most difficult to answer, is this: “Why haven’t there been more female winners?”

This question is usually asked by women.

I have a theory: it’s mostly a matter of numbers. I’ll explain my theory after I explain several important numbers.

The first important number is four. That’s how many women have won the World Championship. They were E.J. Burgay (1977), Marie C. Pyne (1985), Arabella Bengson (1986) and LaShunda Rundles (2008).

The second important number is 85. That’s how old Toastmasters is, having been founded in October, 1924. So you may be doing the math: “Only four female winners in 85 years?” No, read on.

The third important number is 36. That’s how many years it has been possible for a woman to win. Why 36 instead of 85? Because Toastmasters didn’t officially allow women in the organization until 1973. Hence, women have had only 36 opportunities to compete in speech contests. 

Thus, there have been four female winners in 36 years. That brings me to the fourth important number: 11. That’s the percentage of female World Champions since they have been eligible to compete.

That is astonishingly low, given that women comprise approximately half of Toastmasters’ total membership.

So why so low? Here’s my theory—and I admit this next statement is a generality—but my experience shows it to be accurate: Fewer women than men compete in club-level speech contests. Your club contest may be the exception, and if so, great. But, having watched a few hundred club level contests over the last 23 years, I have found a ratio of four or five men to every one woman who competes in the club-level speech contests.

In my club’s contest held March 20, 2008 for example, we had four contestants—all of them male. I’ve seen this pattern over and over in club contests around the world.

Therefore, it’s mostly a matter of numbers. If you want to see a larger number of women at the finish line, it would be desirable to see a larger number of women at the starting line.

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Author’s credit:
David Brooks, DTM, won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in 1990. Since that time he has coached and/or mentored six subsequent World Champions and dozens of finalists. You may contact him at

Author’s note:
If you want to learn more about becoming a better speaker, visit David’s website. Under the Resources tab you will find many free resources for writers and speakers. And, when you are there, sign up for David’s free blog-azine so that you can receive nuggets of knowledge from him on a regular basis.