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Using a representative survey of U.S. lawyers, we document a sizeable gender gap in early partnership aspirations, which explains half of the later gender promotion gap. We propose a model to understand aspirations and then empirically test it. We show that aspirations induce greater effort and increase regret if a promotion is not obtained. Furthermore, aspirations are linked to fertility choices and workplace experiences (mentoring and discrimination). Facing harassment or demeaning comments at an early career stage affects later promotion, mediated via a change in aspirations. We highlight those measuring aspirations, and understanding how they are formed, is key to explaining gender career gaps.