The day Willa Fields found out she was being paid $20,000 less than a male colleague

What happened when she told her boss ...
By Bernie Monegain
01:18 PM
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Fields is professor in the School of Nursing at San Diego State University, where she teaches graduate courses in informatics, performance improvement, and healthcare policy.

Imagine as a women finding out accidently that a male colleague in a lesser position than you, and with fewer and lesser responsibilities, was earning $20,000 more than you.

That’s exactly what happened to Willa Fields back in 2001.

She told the story at a panel discussion on breaking the glass ceiling at the Summit of the Southeast last month.

Fields, who has been on the faculty at San Diego State University since 2006 and is a professor in the School of Nursing, teaches graduate courses in informatics, performance improvement, and healthcare policy and issues. She received her Doctorate in Nursing Science from the University of San Diego and her Masters of Science in Nursing from San Diego State University.

Before that she worked in a large integrated health system. She had the title of Vice President of Patient Care Systems in the Information Systems Department, where she was responsible for the patient care computer systems, including implementation of core clinical systems.

“I was very pleased with the amount I was making at this large integrated health system,” she said. “When you are in an executive role, you have access to data that many people don’t have.”

One day, while she was going through the data, she happened to see that a male colleague, who had fewer employees to supervise, less breadth of responsibility, and a smaller budget to administer, was making $20,000 a year more than she.

“I thought, hmm, what do I do? I accidentally found this information…”

That $20,000 discrepancy would have added up to a lot of money by 2016, she noted.

[See also: HIMSS Longitudinal Gender Compensation Assessment.]

“I had a male boss, and I decided that I needed to tell him that I accidently saw information that I really probably shouldn’t have even seen,” she said. “But, I did see the information, and somebody’s making $20,000 more than me!”

Her boss was angry, but not at Fields – instead at another manager who had hired Fields’ colleague at the higher salary.

“I found myself with a very healthy raise because my boss then paid me more than what this guy was making,” Fields said.

“The take-home message for those of you who do accidentally find out that somebody is making a substantial amount more than you, it behooves you to speak up,” she said. “Do it professionally. I didn’t go angrily. I went to my boss in a very nice way, and I found myself with a healthy raise.”