Women who initiated such conversations and changed jobs post MBA experienced slower compensation growth than the women who stayed put. For men, on the other hand, it paid off to change jobs and negotiate for higher salaries—they earned more than men who stayed did. And we saw that as both men’s and women’s careers progress, the gender gap in level and pay gets even wider.

Our findings run counter to media coverage of the so-called phenomenon that “women don’t ask.” Instead the problem may be, as some other research has shown, that people routinely take a tougher stance against women in negotiations than they take against men—for example quoting higher starting prices when trying to sell women cars or making less generous offers when dividing a sum of money. Catalyst research has shown a number of ways that talent-management systems can also be vulnerable to unintentional gender biases and stereotypes.