Men and women launch into their careers on equal footing, but since women soon lag behind in their representation at management levels, there has been a great deal of speculation as to why. A fascinating case study points to some possible reasons. A manager recommended a male employee for promotion, citing the male candidate’s experience handling the tough clients and bigger cases as indication he had proven himself. However, it came to light that the male employee had been given the tough clients and big cases over the female employee; she wasn’t offered the opportunity to prove herself. Perhaps some women are being overlooked even earlier in their careers than previously thought, when key work assignments are being made.

I intentionally chose an educational path that was both what interested me and also set me up to get a job—a blend of fine arts, math, social sciences, and languages. I started my career as an actuary, attracted by, among other things, the fact that when taking actuarial exams, I was identified only as a “candidate number.” And as long as I continued to pass these exams and perform well on the job, I could expect to advance. I wanted to achieve success by demonstrating my abilities. When I was almost done completing the exams, I realized I needed to plan my next steps. I looked into a few positions over the next few months and found an exciting opportunity by joining an investment team.

So, for more women to achieve the management positions they want, I suggest a two-fold solution. First, plan your careers more deliberately, starting in college, by taking time to decide where you want to be and then building your resumé of course work, skills, experiences, and credentials to get you there. Once launched into your career, if you see a male coworker getting high-profile assignments, ask why or ask for the assignment yourself. Secondly, employers need to manage opportunities for experience and exposure more intentionally.

Only when both parties—the female worker and the employer—take steps like these will women achieve their potential and employers realize the benefits of more diversity at management and executive levels.