Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

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Vanessa Lawrence

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Dr Vanessa Lawrence, CB

Awards: HonFREng; GeoSpatial Personality of the Decade 2000 – 2010.


Ordnance Survey is known to most people for its range of leisure maps. However, its core business is the production of very large scale accurate and up to date mapping of the whole country. This provides the essential underpinning for a wide range of engineering activities: in transport, construction, resource extraction, energy and water distribution, agriculture, environmental and emergency services and so on. Under her leadership, the Survey has completely re-engineered the whole process for the collection and publication of this vital survey information. Its earlier series of 230,000 digitised paper maps have been replaced by a single, seamless database of topographic information covering the whole of Great Britain. Unlike the earlier digitised maps, this database contains extensive details of every feature in the landscape, making it ideally suited for use in modern planning, design, architecture, navigation, emergency response and national security systems. This conversion from digitised maps to general purpose database is an accomplishment unique among the world's major mapping agencies, and the task was thought by many to be impossible. Parallel initiatives in the use of GPS and other technologies to gather survey data have led to significant improvements in the speed and accuracy with which Britain's ever changing landscape is recorded. Her accomplishments at Ordnance Survey have been recognised by the awarding of Honorary Doctorates from several Universities. In addition to her role at Ordnance Survey, Vanessa is an active leader in the encouragement of best management, commercial and customer practices across many parts in Whitehall and other broader public sector; a role recognised by her being Chair of the Association of Chief Executives of Governmental Agencies.

Vanessa is the adviser to the British Government on mapping, surveying and geographic information and was instrumental in the delivery of Place Matters: The Location Strategy for the United Kingdom, the medium to long-term strategy for geographic information. This was published and endorsed by Ministers.

She received her business training from the publishing company Pearson plc.  Prior to joining Ordnance Survey, Vanessa held senior positions at Autodesk Inc.

Vanessa is the Honorary Vice-President of The Geographical Association and a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and the University of Cambridge. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and Kingston University.

Vanessa is a Companion of the Chartered Management Institute, a Chartered Geographer and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors.  She also has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

In January 2008, Vanessa was appointed as a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

Vanessa is one of the few recipients of the Scottish Geographical Medal, a prestigious award conferred only occasionally since 1890 by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.  In addition, she has six Honorary Doctorate degrees and is an Honorary Fellow of University College London.  In December 2008, she was named South-East Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors.

In July 2009 Vanessa was appointed Honorary Colonel of 135 Independent Geographic Squadron, Royal Engineers.

In January 2011 Vanessa was awarded the GeoSpatial Personality of the Decade 2000 – 2010.

In October 2011, Vanessa was appointed as co-Chair of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management. The new committee reports directly to the UN Economic and Social Council.

Vanessa enjoys scuba diving, sailing her Solo dinghy, walking most weekends with friends, collecting antique maps and playing tennis at her local tennis club.

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