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Starting Small but Thinking Big: Helping Team Members with Down Syndrome Develop Enriching Careers

This month we are celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month. At Hilton we are committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace where all Team Members can thrive.

Hilton Team Member Polina Kabanova is trying to change the world. She started small, but it’s making a big difference in her home country of Russia. Last year, she started an initiative to hire Team Members with Down syndrome after she realized not many companies or businesses in Russia consider these candidates. That’s when she started UP 21, named for the most common form of Down syndrome called trisomy 21, when people have 47 chromosomes in each cell instead of 46.

Polina worked with her team to create a project that would help young adults develop life skills and obtain permanent employment across a number of Hilton properties in Russia. After starting at the hotel, Team Members move through various roles both front and back of house, including food and beverage, catering and administration, to gain valuable skills and determine what job function they prefer. During the rotation they are partnered with a buddy to help with onboarding and training. 

Currently, six Team Members are working a flexible schedule in roles ranging from waitressing and housekeeping to assisting a General Manager, and Kabanova says this is an important first step. “We are the only company in Russia with a focus on recruiting, training and hiring as many young adults with Down syndrome as possible, and we’re just getting started — we have BIG plans.” 

Polina’s talent acquisition team is working with social influencer writer and social influencer Olga Savelieva to get connected with more candidates. “We have reviewed our employment contracts to make sure we are compliant with disability employment laws, and we also have support from the government.”

The hotels are also receiving support from the community. “The guests are giving us great feedback, and we’ve received a few sales inquiries who specifically want these Team Members to assist their group.”

UP 21 is gaining momentum. There are 10 more candidates in training with plans to start working at hotels later this year in housekeeping and sales. Additionally, properties in Kazakhstan have recently joined the project and are getting ready to welcome their first Team Members with Down syndrome. “They have a fantastic attitude and enthusiasm that’s sometimes missing in Russian culture … especially at hotels, we need more smiling faces,” said Kabanova.

About Hilton

Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 24 world-class brands comprising more than 7,600 properties and nearly 1.2 million rooms, in 126 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its founding vision to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, Hilton has welcomed over 3 billion guests in its more than 100-year history, was named the No. 1 World’s Best Workplace by Great Place to Work and Fortune and has been recognized as a global leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for seven consecutive years. Hilton has introduced industry-leading technology enhancements to improve the guest experience, including Digital Key Share, automated complimentary room upgrades and the ability to book confirmed connecting rooms. Through the award-winning guest loyalty program Hilton Honors, the nearly 190 million Hilton Honors members who book directly with Hilton can earn Points for hotel stays and experiences money can't buy. With the free Hilton Honors app, guests can book their stay, select their room, check in, unlock their door with a Digital Key and check out, all from their smartphone. Visit for more information, and connect with Hilton on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.