"I am naturally inquisitive, with a strong interest in research and education."
We were delighted to catch up with Selina Morgan-Gayle, Founder and Chief Executive of SMG Mediation Ltd, a practice that offers exceptional, affordable mediation services throughout the UK.
We learn about her solid background and education in law and her commitment to continuous learning, and why the foundations of her business were built on her own personal journey and a strong desire to fit her successful career around her family.
Naturally inquisitive and optimistic, Selina shares with us why she finds networking and mentoring a crucial part of her own business journey, why it meant so much to win a major industry award in 2018, and some very wise words on passion, positivity and perseverance.
Selina also tells us about why her own in-built alarm means she never snoozes, how she somehow balances an array of interests (reading, walking, singing, and dancing no less!), and why her Mum is her strongest role model and has made her the woman she is today.
It’s great to talk to you, Selina, and thanks for joining us for the series! Please could you start by telling us about your business and the services it offers?
SMG Mediation is a mediation service company. It stands for ‘Settlement through Mediation with our Guidance’, and SMG is also the acronym for my full name.
We provide mediation services to individuals and businesses in the main legal areas of civil, commercial, employment, and workplace as well as family mediation.
Formerly a team of two, we are now eight including one Legal Assistant. We are still in the process of expanding, but doing so strategically to ensure growth in the right areas of the business.
What was the inspiration behind SMG Mediation?
The foundations for the business were built from my own personal journey. I effectively have two degrees and an extensive background in law, as I studied for many years to be a barrister.
In 2012, I was made redundant and I was living off of my savings, which were not illimitable. I needed to find work but really wanted to remain passionate about it, and avoid moving to another law firm where I would work long hours and compromise my family and work balance lifestyle. I was reluctant to simply hand out my CV, so I didn’t.
Crucially, I had also given birth to my son the year before. My career was important, but it needed to fit around my child.
I completed the Mediation Accreditation in 2013 and realised that mediation was something I really wanted to do. I could use my legal background to help others, while at the same time retain control of my own life, be a hands-on Mum (like my own Mum was) and preserve a little bit of ‘me’.
In 2014, I made the one of the best decisions in my life; I took the plunge and opened a mediation services practice. In September that year, SMG Mediation Ltd was created — and I have never looked back!
In a nutshell, what are your key responsibilities as CEO?
The smooth running of the business and overseeing its key operations. I also strive to ensure that our business values align with my own personal values and those of our clients.
SMG Mediation had a rebrand in 2021 and I personally retained the brand colours. I have a very spiritual background and in colour therapy, purple is spiritual and blue means communication. We communicate to our clients and allow them to effectively communicate with each other, whilst providing a holistic service and after service — so the colour choice was intentional!
Where, and how, did you start your career in L&D? Were there any key roles along the way?
My education, training and background is in law which requires continuous learning and development and the acquisition of key skills. Shadowing barristers and other solicitors at law school was a key part of my own training. My own personal interest in L&D, and a strong drive to keep learning, started from there.
This led me to consider the ways in which we learn and that I wanted to help others in their own career. I became a mentor for Aspire Foundation, a non-profit organisation that inspires and empowers girls and women to succeed in their lives.
SMG Mediation offers an online Legal Assistant Course, a programme which is a core feature of our business. The course provides education to aspiring law students, law graduates and professionals with an interest in law. It also offers support and practical experience, which may not be easily available. This is an aspect close to my heart; it can be difficult for people in my community and in this field to get access to training and experience — and I always look for ways in which I can help others.
The course helps students, graduates and professionals to enhance their experience, qualifications, and legal skills, as they have the opportunity to handle real cases in court and in mediation over a period of six months. It offers assistance with case management, legal administrative procedures, legal writing, case law, and other related topics.
It provides students with not only a head start and valuable knowledge, but also continuous professional development as it is accredited by the renowned CPD Standards, with all those that complete the course receiving a fully recognised qualification. We are not just a learning course; we offer all of our students with support in landing them a legal role within six months of them completing our course, with some having the opportunity to work with SMG Mediation.
Had you always intended to work in law and learning and development, or did you explore any other routes along the way?
When I was younger, I was adamant that I wanted to be a barrister. The decision was encouraged by my family; my Mum simply said, “OK, if you want to do it — go for it” and I didn’t want to do anything else.
I was always interested in a career in the legal industry and I studied for many years, up until the age of 25. I knew that, even if I didn’t decide immediately on my specialist area, my background in law would provide a solid foundation. This helped when I made a slight change of direction in my career and eventually chose mediation.
I have also done a little modelling, singing, dancing, and acting! This wasn’t something I saw as a main career, though; it’s an extension of who I am and what I am capable of and something I am also deeply passionate about.
How do you keep your skills fresh and keep a focus on your own learning as well as others’?
I always try to focus on my own CPD, and I am naturally inquisitive, with a strong interest in research and education.
I am also an avid reader. I particularly love biographies and memoirs, especially if they focus on an entrepreneur or someone in business, and the self-help genre. Reading them makes me feel that I am gaining knowledge and insight from another entrepreneur — and helps me to minimise any challenges on my own business journey.
I find networking useful; I am part of MSDUK, the UK’s leading non-profit membership organisation driving inclusive procurement. It promotes the ethos of diversity and inclusion in public and private sector supply chains by identifying and introducing innovative and entrepreneurial ethnic minority owned businesses (EMBs).
I am also a member of the brilliant Black Founders Hub, a peer network dedicated to inspiring and shaping the next generation of change-makers and high net-worth black founders.
I am also a spiritual person and find prayer very helpful. I work hard on my own mindset; I regularly exercise and meditate and practice positive self-talk and affirmations. This is how I start my day!
Can you tell us your most memorable career 'up', and 'down'? What did you learn from them?
In 2018, I was the proud winner of “Mediation Champion of the Year” at The National Mediation Awards, which celebrates excellence in mediation. I was also nominated for the “Mediation Unsung Hero” award.
This was incredibly special to me as it demonstrates a great acknowledgment and appreciation from the industry (which tends to be white male dominated). I am also the first black female mediator to win in this category. When I accepted the award, I made a very passionate speech!
One career ‘down’ comes to mind. When SMG Mediation was in its infancy, I took on a marketing course. I genuinely believed it would be good for marketing and lead generation and ultimately beneficial to the company. This was the first time I had looked outside of my business for help.
Unfortunately, within around two months the course provider went into administration. I had invested not only financially but also in time and ‘sweat equity’. When it happened, I felt depleted; we were relying on it and it was a great course.
It taught me about taking risks though, and that they can be valid. At the time, I was being strategic and moving out of my comfort zone. It also reminded me that, when things go wrong, if you have the energy and the right mindset you can allow yourself to make things right. It is always best to choose movement over stagnation.
What top line advice would you give to anyone looking to start a career in L&D or mediation, or to progress further?
I also recommend finding a mentor; someone experienced who has already done, or is doing, what you want to do and can provide guidance. You may not necessarily call them a ‘mentor’ or be part of a structured mentorship programme; it could be someone you trust and who really understands the business and your journey.
How has the current COVID-19 pandemic impacted SMG Mediation and its work?
Despite the many challenges, the pandemic has on the whole had a positive impact. Due to the climate and the Black Lives Matter movement, our work actually increased.
The pandemic allowed people to stop and reflect; whether that was to go online and upskill or take the time to actively fix a personal or professional problem.
Many people with issues were seeking a mediator that looked like me to resolve their disputes. Therefore, the demand for my services increased and so did my work — as people were more inclined to look at their internal disputes and fix them.
How do you think the L&D industry will need to adapt and flex to overcome the challenges?
I believe the industry will need to make its services and training programmes more accessible and bring more of their offering online.
For SMG Mediation, our training courses are delivered digitally via an online platform, and our mediation services can be provided both face-to-face and online.
The hybrid model is not new to us! This is an option we offered when we started the business, and before the pandemic. Offering more online courses where delegates still feel like they are in the classroom with a ‘face-to-face’ feel will make training more accessible to those who want to learn.
With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, what are your views on returning to face-to-face training?
I’m an advocate of the hybrid model — where you can attend face to face training, events or meetings if you want to but also have the option to attend online if that suits you and your circumstances better. I work mostly from home, which I love, and it suits me and my family's routine better. However, I do understand that for some people, they need human interaction.
We recently held our first face-to-face mediation session, and it was fantastic, although we are being selective. This was a 12-party mediation, after doing 12 one-to-one online sessions, I think it was necessary to hold the full mediation in person.
As CEO, are you asking for training plans to be scaled back or realigned, as a result of the pandemic?
If anything, the pandemic has made me go for it even more — and aim for everything! It has refocused my approach. When we launched the Legal Assistant course in 2021, we wanted to get as many people on it as possible and help and support those who needed it. All our Legal Assistants that completed the course are now happily in their legal roles.
Is there anyone you look up to or reach out to for inspiration — either in the L&D industry, your networks or in general?
It may sound cliché, but it is my Mum. She has been a great inspiration to me. She had five children who she pretty much raised alone in the family home as, although my Dad has always been there for my siblings and I, my parents were not together.
She is a strong, fun loving, generous black woman and I know her inside out. I found it hugely inspiring to know that she could juggle raising a big family and be hands-on with enjoying her life and having a career (she had three jobs)!
She always said that I could do anything I wanted to do if I put my mind to it; like going to university and then to law school, and she never dictated my career choices. She wanted me to take lead in my life choices, especially if it made me happy.
She has definitely made me the woman I am today, especially the mother I am to my son.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and why has it remained with you?
Think, believe, and receive. When something goes wrong, something good will come out of it. This always stays with me as mindset is everything to achieving positivity and success and all my lessons have become my blessings.
Also, faith plus action equals results. Without my faith in God, I do not know where I would be. As this is my strong guidance in my decision process.
What, or who, motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and get working?
My ten-year-old son! He is the biggest blessing I have had in my life and he is my shining light.
He is very positive, and tells me “You can do it, Mum!”. I run my business for myself though as well — because if I didn't do it for me, I could not do it for him. I have had a strong role model, so I want to give this to him, too.
He has made me a better person and to strive to be better in all areas of my life — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
My relationship with God motivates me as he has allowed me to live in my purpose to support so many individuals and businesses with their legal disputes.
We’re all aware of the Digital Skills gap in the UK. How are you recruiting and upskilling your staff to overcome this challenge?
We have several good systems in place so that we can get to our clients and they can get to us; this is very important to us to ensure we are working on the business as opposed to in it.
We have updated and rebranded our website to enable clients to access and download information and materials more easily and connect with us. Whilst ensuring that we are creating digital platforms to create convenience for both the team and our clients.
What do you think needs to be done to retain the human side when considering digital learning?
I believe it is important to bring your own character and personality through; this can be difficult when interacting or training on a screen, but it does bring a face-to-face element to your students. I think it is important not to be afraid to show up and allow people to get to know you. They will come to you and buy from you because they like you.
When our students join our course via Zoom, it is me talking to them live! This has helped to foster some great working relationships.
I would also recommend adding video technology to online training platforms and marketing materials for added authenticity, to allow your clients to create a connection with you.
What time does your alarm go off? Do you snooze… or leap out of bed?
I’m a self-clock, I do not need an alarm! I do set one at 8.00am, just to be sure, but I am normally up for a long time before this as I wake up naturally around 6.30am. I pray and I go for a morning walk.
I am not a snoozer and I am quite structured; when the alarm goes off it is very much, “That’s it, time’s up!”.
What would be your dream breakfast and where would you eat it?
It would be a Caribbean feast of Hard Dough Bread, plantain, mangoes with ackee and saltfish. It would be accompanied by a fruit “mocktail” as I am not much of a drinker.
Location? Definitely on a beach, somewhere in the Caribbean, and most likely Jamaica!
That sounds idyllic. What is your actual breakfast and location?
Spelt Flakes with raisins and a mango and banana smoothie, as I am an alkaline vegan, and it would be at home. Just as dreamy!
What are you reading, watching, or listening to at the moment?
I am reading “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel. It offers timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness and how to grow your business.
I am watching an American legal drama series called “For Life”. It is loosely based on the true story of a black American man named Isaac Wright Jr. who was sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. While in prison, he became a lawyer and helped others to overturn their wrongful convictions. He used his own legal skills to prove his own innocence and be released from prison.
I am listening to "Cry Like a Man - Fighting for Freedom from Emotional Incarceration” by Jason Morton on Audible, because I always want to understand how men work and also because I am raising a boy. I am hearing a lot about men not being able to talk about their emotions and the increase in suicide rates, and so this is a topic that is important to me.
Music-wise, I listen to anything with a great beat! Mainly R’n’B especially 90s R’n’B.
What can’t you get through the day without?
Prayer, exercise, and laughter! That fills my own cup — before I can fill anyone else's.
What’s the best part of your job — and the most challenging?
The best part is knowing that I have been a part of my client’s journey in reaching a resolution. Also, seeing the smile on their face and knowing that they can sleep better with my professional support.
The only challenging aspect of my job can be finding consistent work; there are times when it is ad hoc so I have to ensure I am consistent and working with corporate clients who I can build a journey with.
Often, the nature of my work is that I work with a client, provide a resolution — and then I may not see them again! This is a good thing; I have helped them solve a problem and they can work effectively but it can also present a complex challenge in my line of work.
If I am working with a company and they have ongoing issues, I can support them and build a better connection whilst also benefiting SMG Mediation financially.
What do you do in your spare time / after work?
Read, spend time with the family, friends, sing, dance and meditate.
Which is quite an array of different things I realise; I do strive for a balance!
Our interviews are conducted by Nicola Greenbrook, a highly experienced HR specialist-turned-writer.
If you would like to chat about your own experiences in Learning & Development, Human Resources, or Talent Acquisition, we would love to hear from you - please use the contact form below and we'll get right back to you.