The attrition of women from science with increasing career stage continues, suggesting that current strategies are unsuccessful. Research evaluation using unbiased metrics could be important for the retention of women, because other factors such as implicit bias are unlikely to quickly change. We compare the publishing patterns of men and women within the discipline of ecology and show sexual dimorphism in self-citation leading to higher h-index scores for men despite lower citations per paper, which is exacerbated by more career absences by women. However, if self-citations and non-research active years are excluded, there are no gender differences in research performance. The pattern is consistent across disciplines and may contribute to current geographic disparities in research performance, rewarding confident behavior and traditional career paths rather than research impact. Importantly, these changes would not disadvantage anyone, because self-citation does not indicate broader impact, and researchers should only be judged on their research-active career.