While India McKnight and Natasha Lopez’s consulting firm may be built on altruistic principles like diversity and inclusion, the duo said they have the same purpose as other business owners: growing the bottom line.

The women behind STEM Consultants, a firm that provides recruiting, consulting and executive search services for both STEM companies and individuals working in the field, claim that in 2018, workplace diversity is more than a nice fundamental — it’s a requirement for profit and growth.

“We’re for any company that wants to grow and be competitive in the marketplace, because if you don’t have diversity and inclusion, you’re going to spend more money,” McKnight said.

As two women of color — minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — McKnight and Lopez said they know that even when companies have a diverse workforce, without the inclusivity piece, employees will not stay long-term.

“What happens if someone quits? Now you have to hire again,” Lopez said. “Working with us, they will be able to decrease the employee turnover and the money spent. At the end of the day, for companies, the bottom line is what it’s about.”

According to U.S. Census data, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but made up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. But statistically, STEM jobs have the smallest wage gap between men and women.

Even women with STEM degrees are less likely to work in a STEM occupation than their male counterparts, something Lopez and McKnight said needs to change for the sake of individuals and the companies they work for.

Lopez and McKnight met in college at Oakland University in Michigan. After studying psychology, Lopez entered the recruiting and staffing field before earning a master’s degree in business administration. McKnight joined the military, working as an operations specialist overseas before entering the health care field.

“We had been talking about different business ventures,” Lopez said. “The stars aligned for us to come down here. I had a position where I could work from home, and I could relocate.”

After researching the best locations to start a small business and work in STEM, the duo moved to the Triangle in 2015.

“I did a lot of research on the best place to live, and North Carolina was always on the list,” McKnight said. “And it was always on the list for best place to start a business or go into STEM, and not to mention … RTP is pretty much the hub.”

Lopez and McKnight said they recognized the lack of diversity at their own jobs as well as the “soft skills” many candidates lack, such as negotiating and advocating for themselves in an interview and once they’re hired.

“I started to realize people really don’t know what to prep for or what to do when they’re coming in for interviews,” Lopez said. “Our focus is on recruiting qualified and diverse candidates to enter and succeed in the STEM field.”

STEM Consultants services include recruiting people as well as developing diversity and inclusion strategies that human resources teams can use going forward.

“People are going to be productive, and there are people with all these different backgrounds bringing all these ideas, new ideas, fresh ideas,” McKnight said. “Why would you not want that as an employer?”

While both still work other jobs, McKnight as an IT specialist for a software company and Lopez in human resources, the goal is for the consulting firm to become their full-time gig.

“We want to be the go-to for diversity and inclusion strategies for companies and also the go-to for training and recruiting, but also for that consulting piece,” Lopez said.

As the company grows, McKnight and Lopez hope to integrate a community approach, perhaps reaching out to youth and schools. They say that a lack of gender diversity in STEM has systemic and cultural reasons.

“We grow up as seeing women as teachers, nurses, we’re playing with Barbie dolls and house, and we have to find a Ken,” McKnight said. “Boys are blowing stuff up, rolling around in mud … It doesn’t have to be your brother that is a scientist, an architect or an engineer, it can be you too.”

They also feel it boils down to women’s confidence and subliminal messages they said women have heard their entire lives.

“There are these messages that they can’t when maybe they could have,” Lopez said.

While recent initiatives promote girls’ interest in math and science, they said they hope there are even more going forward.

“I think there are efforts, but there can always be more. I hope that over the next five years, the next 10 years, the next 15 years, those programs are building the confidence in those young girls to take on those positions,” Lopez said.

McKnight said creating an inclusive and diverse workplace is especially important in STEM industries, where the goal is often problem-solving.

“You can’t have just one kind of person working on a problem,” she said. “ You want input from everyone, so I think it’s essential to (the company’s) well-being.”

“When you have an engaged workforce, you’re going to reach success,” Lopez said. “That’s how you get that creativity and innovation.”