In another session, rather oddly, I learned that balloons and cupcakes are needed. At first, I looked with raised eyebrows at the guy that I was attending the session with, and we both silently mouthed something like: "Wow, there would be an OUTCRY if a male programmer were to stand on that stage and say that there need to be cupcakes and balloons in order to bring women to programming conferences." (And he'd be blacklisted from speaking ever again at any conference anywhere in the world, on any topic at all, which as far as I know has never ever happened before, making for the shortest blacklist ever.) It was, however, a female programmer on the stage (with an atypical speaker background, i.e., not from the US or EU, so some cultural differences were the basis of the perspective I believe), who also talked about a need for daycare facilities at conferences, as a precondition for more women attendees.
I've thought more about this and in my humble opinion the balloons and cupcakes theory is closer to the mark than one might think. There is a pervasive curtness and to-the-pointness and a OK-I'll-help-you-but-you-better-not-waste-my-time-by-showing-you're-an-idiotness that is more than apparent throughout the developer community, regardless of the language or the technology, i.e., in the Java community, in the Python community, in all kinds of developer communities.
Myself included! I'm often very direct and curt and might more often than not come across as being unkind, in the context of my work within various, primarily Java, developer communities. And that's simply because I want to get the job done, help out, give advice, and then move on to the next thing to work on, or to help with, or to give advice on. "Being nice", smiling, being patient, etc, are always secondary to those aims. No matter how much you, if you're a male, reading this, are now thinking to yourself: "Well, speak for yourself. I'm pretty kind and I smile a lot," I don't believe you. I believe you're hurried and when you're hacking with someone, you want to work quickly, with a lot of speed, you want to hurriedly fix one thing, and then hurry on to another thing, you want to quickly add new features, and fix bugs, and there's time pressure, all the time.
In fact, the real question is, therefore not "Why do so few women want to be programmers?" The question, the real question, is: "Why do so many men want to be programmers", given this unkind (yes, yes, you're helpful, but you're hurried, you're on the clock, no time for cupcakes, and you think balloons at conferences are ridiculous, proving my point) ecosystem?
In short, the programming world is a pretty fast paced environment, in which you need to move fast and accurately, where you tend to get looked down upon when making mistakes, code fast, and do everything else fast. The point isn't that women aren't up to those tasks, I'm sure they are. But why would they want to be? So the question is why do men not find this environment so problematic that they choose to stay far away from it? The only exception to all this that I know of is mob programming, as explained to me by the wonderful Woody Zuill, which is a very kind environment, embracing of newbies and supportive from the beginning of the day to the end:
To me, a BOF worth having on this topic should not have any women in it, as every year at Devoxx and so many other conferences. Instead, there should be a BOF aimed at men (myself included!) and about being kinder, with a title like "Towards a Friendlier Developer Community". There's something seriously wrong with men (as well as the few women who are in the various developer communities) that we tolerate the unkind, intimidating, impatient, macho attitudes that pervade the software industry, as well as so many other industries, I might add.