Voices for Change is PEOPLE's editorial series committed to elevating and amplifying the stories of celebrities and everyday people alike who are dedicated to making change and uplifting others in the fight for racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, climate action and more

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Jennifer Nettles
Jennifer Nettles
| Credit: Shervin Lainez

On Jennifer Nettles' new Broadway covers album, Always Like New (out now), she has a stirring rendition of the 1950 Guys and Dolls classic "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" which, ironically, the country star and Sugarland artist has never been afraid to do. Most notably at the CMA Awards in 2019, Nettles, 46, sparked a conversation about how severely underrepresented women are on country radio when she wore a cape printed with a drawing of a woman's face affixed with the female gender symbol, and the words "equal play" and "Play our f*@#!g records please & thank you" on the red carpet. As a result, CMT implemented several equal play initiatives, and Nettles was awarded with their first-ever Equal Play award last October. As part of PEOPLE's Voices for Change series, Nettles shares her experiences being a woman in country music, how she embraced being a "boat rocker" and her hopes for a more inclusive future of the genre.

Before Sugarland, I actually wasn't in country music. I was an indie singer-songwriter, and I made my living that way for 10 years before Sugarland started as a writing project. I grew up in the Atlanta music scene, so watching musicians like Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and R.E.M. — very vocal, very political, very big activists within not only the music community, but in the community at large — made me unafraid to speak my truth.

As a country musician, I find myself in an interesting opportunity in terms of my own convictions and beliefs. I am quite liberal, open-hearted, left-leaning, LGBTQ+-loving, and I support Black Lives Matter. Yes, we can call it political, but to me it's human. With those convictions and beliefs I find myself within a genre of music with a demographic who is typically not those things. So I'm in an interesting position to be able to speak my heart, speak my truths and rock the boat when necessary.

At the 2019 CMA Awards, I was very mindful in considering what I wanted my message to be. On the cape I wore, it [says], "Play our f---ing records," and then the other side says, "Please and thank you," because, of course, I'm mannerly. But I made sure that it didn't directly say 'f---' because I knew that if it did, there would be publications who wouldn't run it. I wanted it to have the largest reach possible. I wanted what it was saying to be obvious, but at the same time, I wanted it to be able to reach as many eyes as possible.

When I stepped out on the red carpet and opened up the cape, there was a collective gasp. I remember feeling in that moment, "Yes, this is going to do what I hoped it would," and what it did was start a conversation in a specific way. That evening on the red carpet, every single outlet I went to, that was what we talked about. In many ways it feels like that conversation has been expanded to not only women but to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.

Jennifer Nettles attends the 53nd annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jennifer Nettles
| Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty

It was so important to me at the time because at the show, CMA was celebrating women in country music. It's wonderful that the CMAs did that, but at the same time, women in country music are so severely underrepresented it's actually gross. So I wanted to encourage the entirety of the industry, especially the country music industry, to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk as well. You can applaud all you want to, but if the applause doesn't turn into actual spins, streams, playlists, bookings for shows, etc., then you're just talking the talk. It's just lip service.

When women aren't played as much as their male counterparts on country radio, it is disheartening at best. I think if you can see it, you can be it. And I think if you can't see it, you can't be it as easily. So if we don't have examples of fantastic "womentors" who have come before us, it's very easy to lose our vision and to lose our dreams. We then miss out on the opportunity to share our story and our very unique and rich and beautiful perspectives on the world as women. So then all [people] hear on radio is men, and one or two women. That's the perspective they're left with.

RELATED VIDEO: Jennifer Nettles Reveals the Inspiration Behind New Single: 'We're Made for Those Hard Things'

There are so many women who should be on country radio. We can look at everyone from super wildly successful Kacey Musgraves, who should be on the radio but isn't — and she doesn't need it, so lucky her — to Kelsea Ballerini, Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark, Brandi Carlile, Cam, Mickey Guyton. I mean, there's so many.

Mickey, who is receiving rightfully receiving so much visibility right now, her support on country radio still is virtually nonexistent as a woman of color. So it's like as a woman, you have one barrier of entry. As a woman of color, you have an even further barrier of entry. It's just like, dear Lord have mercy. What's a girl going to do just to get to do what you love?

Another problem is streaming platforms. I've got my work cut out for me. The challenge where streamers are concerned is that what the streamers care about is not art. They care about the convenience of their platform, and they care about the expansion of their numbers within the platform. So it isn't about an artistic curation as much as it is about a mathematical algorithm, and how those numbers continue to expand and grow.

The problem is that we don't have the same priorities between art and algorithm. It's two different goals, two different priorities, two different conversations. Because of that, I think it's going to take some significant effort to try and affect change where that's concerned.

In truth, you can support women artists by your streaming, by your downloads, and by your ticket purchases. As the world opens up safely, come out and see us women live. If you really want to know offense here as opposed to defense, go to on the streamers and fill up your own playlists with women because it'll snowball and they'll make recommendations according to who you have on there. So go and make playlists with all the ladies.

I think that everyone has heard the adage, "With great power comes great responsibility." I don't know if I necessarily feel great power, but I understand that visibility translates to power. I know that I have a very visible platform, and as such, feel compelled and feel called to use that, not only for my art and my music and the way that I want my art and my music to reflect my personal convictions and beliefs, but also to very pointedly share those personal convictions and beliefs.

Jennifer Nettles attends the 53nd annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena on November 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jennifer Nettles
| Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty

As a mom, I feel really lucky to have my son [Magnus, 8], and to be the mother of a son. I think, "What a fantastic opportunity for me to show him what it is to understand strong women, what it is to respect women and love women."

I feel lucky to be able to have such an important role in the life of a sweet little young man, and to be able to share what it is that I believe, because children will learn from their parents much more by example than they will any sort of sit-down conversation that you might want to have. So Magnus being able to see his mom being a working mother and out doing what she loves, and following her dreams, and following her heart, I hope it will inspire him to follow his own dreams and support those of his friends and loved ones, both male and female.

In the future, I really hope that women continue to gain support and visibility within the community. I hope that radio and the streamers will catch on. I would love to see more female voices represented and celebrated within the format. I hope that not only will the women that we have currently in the music industry be successful, but that those doors will be opened in such a way that we can have even more of them.

Voices for Change is PEOPLE's editorial series committed to elevating and amplifying the stories of celebrities and everyday people alike who are dedicated to making change and uplifting others in the fight for racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, climate action and more