VHB Panel Celebrates Women and Inspires Future Generations!

Discussion covered challenges, work/life balance, and ways that we can best take care of ourselves and support each other.

March 08, 2024


In recognition of International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme of #InspiringInclusion, VHB hosted a special virtual event celebrating women across our footprint, and more than 240 employees joined to listen and learn.

The event was hosted by Chief People Officer Keri Kocur, who has grown her career at VHB over the past 26 years. During Keri’s tenure, she has seen the percentage of women at our firm more than double to now 38 percent, which is higher than industry average, and noted that it will continue to grow.

“Advancing a more inclusive culture is something that we are always striving to do and we are very intentional about it—in all that we do. Today’s event is an example of this!” shared Keri.

The panel discussion began with introductions, kicked off by moderator Raffaela Dunne, Transportation Systems Director.

The lively conversation then explored challenges that women face in the AEC industry, career development, mentorship, managing work/life balance, and how we all play a role in advancing an inclusive culture. Panelists shared personal stories that inspired colleagues and provided them with insightful reflections and helpful advice. More importantly, they highlighted the importance that everyone plays in supporting each other both professionally and personally. We’ve included many of the topics discussed and their direct quotes below to share and celebrate their experiences and insight.


From top to bottom, left to right: Raffaela Dunne, Keri Kocur, Katie Shannon, Nicole Bennett, Selma Mandzo-Preldzic, and Marisol Castro Aguilar.
From top to bottom, left to right: Raffaela Dunne, Keri Kocur, Katie Shannon, Nicole Bennett, Selma Mandzo-Preldzic, and Marisol Castro Aguilar.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

During the discussion, the panelists noted challenges they had encountered as women in the industry but also offered important lessons learned in overcoming those challenges.

“I have learned to show up and fully occupy my space in the room and not feel like I have to prove to others that I deserve to be there because I can remind myself about how hard I worked and the sacrifices that I made, and that others made for me. I fully stand in that space and hold my head up and lift my voice,” said Nicole Bennett, Urban Planner - Equity Strategist.

Katie Shannon, Senior Community Planner, remarked on the importance of staying true to yourself.

“By leading with your heart and having compassion for people who are underserved and/or disadvantaged, you can better champion strategies to bolster their lives,” she said. “It can be challenging to lead with your heart but it is also a fundamental strength.”

“Learn to embrace failure,” added Marisol Castro Aguilar, Lead Transportation Infrastructure. “Those are the best opportunities that we have for growth and for learning from those mistakes to come out better on the other side.”

Raffaela noted the impact that overcoming challenges can have on future generations.

“Some of the challenges that we have faced and some of the growth that we’ve experienced leads us to how we are supporting the next generation of women in the organization and the profession,” she said.


Having a strong support system professionally and personally was a key theme that all of the participants noted in their success.

“We all need a support system and focusing on building and maintaining relationships both at work and outside of work is important,” said Selma Mandzo-Preldzic, Sr. Project Manager/TPO Team Leader. “One way to do that is through trust―by being trustworthy and trusting others. Show up when you are supposed to and deliver on what you promised, but don’t overpromise and be okay with saying no when you need to.”

Marisol noted the importance of mentorship as a support system.

"Prior to VHB, I didn’t have anyone to guide me, share experiences with, or advocate for career opportunities for me which was challenging,” she said. “Now that I’m in a management position, it’s something that I prioritize for my team to make sure that I’m their advocate. Having that kind of support allows you to get to the next level in your career.”

Work/Life Balance

Balancing work with self-care was a recurring theme echoed by all the panelists.

“The word ‘balance’ is a bit misleading," Selma said. “I knew I wanted a family and a career so I fully accepted that there would be days, weeks, and perhaps months when things would not be balanced. VHB is very flexible, and having that flexibility and a strong support system helped me stay engaged at work and grow my career.”

“What I’ve learned over time is that you must set healthy boundaries,” Nicole added. “Even if it’s not what you would call balanced, you have to have boundaries. I’m still working on it, but I’ve become much better about taking time for me to make sure that I’m the healthiest version I can be physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

 “There has to be a clear separation between work and personal time,” Marisol said. “It’s easier said than done. Learn when to say no and to separate personal time to take care of yourself.”

“I’ve moved my computer to my dining room where I can look outside and take in the sunshine,” Katie said. “It’s important to create spaces that feel authentically true to you and that bring that level of inspiration in the day-to-day.”

Keri wrapped up the event, thanking participants and sharing, “I’m inspired, and I’m honored to count this group of women as colleagues. We have a lot in common, and we all need to continue to show up and support each other.”